Building Worlds

Bryant and May, Reading & Writing

2. water room

When I created the Bryant & May world, I hadn’t counted on what they call ‘the Springfield Effect’, wherein you start with a couple of characters and end up with a hundred. For Terry Pratchett, Alzheimer’s must be the worst disease in the world for a man who has created a galaxy of interconnected characters.

Bryant & May have been creeping into or around many of my other books for years, so much so that I had forgotten all about some of their appearance, until someone on Twitter today mentioned he liked the Arthur Bryant cameo in my comedy-thriller ‘Plastic’.

I really hadn’t intended to put him in there, but at a certain point I needed an elderly man to interact with a young streetsmart teenager, and I it seemed natural to put him in – although I don’t think he’s given a name in the book.

The desire to connect worlds is very strong. As a child, all my stories had crossover characters. Comics have always built worlds in this way, with both DC and Marvel crossfeeding their heroes into other books.

What didn’t work, though, was turning Bryant & May into a graphic novel, because comics readers aren’t crime fans, and vice versa. The book was hard to find, certainly (a problem with the publisher) but it was a different market, and many people said they did not want to see my characters defined so clearly. They preferred them to exist in their heads.

Lesson learned, then – I’ll hopefully  do another graphic novel with Keith Page, but adapting an earlier book, probably ‘Calabash’.

31 comments on “Building Worlds”

  1. J. Folgard says:

    One of the things I loved about my first B&M novel -it was ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’ I think- was the interesting, endearing supporting characters. Too often in detective fiction, they’re reduced to cardboard cut-outs, with a name tag, a function and hair color if you’re lucky. They’re part of the appeal of your wonderful series.
    I was smiling from ear to ear when Arthur appeared in ‘Plastic’, talking about his beloved rivers; this was a cracking thriller on its own right, and seeing this cameo was like strolling in a new part of town and bumping unto a familiar friend for a few minutes. I like the fact that you didn’t state his name explicitly, so it didn’t fly in the face of those readers not familiar with the character.
    I’m sorry to hear about the sales of the graphic novel. I might not fit into the right demographic, but I read tons of books as well as comics of various genres, and this endeavour was a joy to read -combining two of my favorite things together (it now stands proudly besides Keith’s ‘Iron Moon’ and Titan’s beautiful ‘Dan Dare’ reprints on my shelves). I know a lot of comic fans who read a lot of prose too, but they veer more towards SF and fantasy (with the exception of one of my friends who, when it comes to novels, will read nothing but crime fiction!)… Nevertheless, I hope you & Keith are proud of it, and I’m really looking forward to another of your collaborations: I really enjoy reading about “your” London and, as the panel above proves, Keith is a master at creating mood and authenticity. Bring it on, and as always I’ll get an extra copy as a gift for a discerning friend. Cheers!

  2. Janet Wilson says:

    I’d love to read the B&M graphic novel. What was it called?

  3. pheeny says:

    I think the transition from film/book to graphic novel is a difficult one – like radio compared to television, books have better pictures.
    For my twopennorth the best graphic novels I have read have always been conceived as such.

    Still no harm in trying!

  4. Clare Stobbs says:

    I love Crippen the cat!

  5. Jo W says:

    It might be interesting to see how the seaside town in Calabash is depicted. In my mind’s eye, I saw a mixture of Bexhill, Eastbourne and Hastings,with a bit of Herne Bay thrown in. But, I agree with Pheeny,the best scenery in books or on the wireless is always inside your own head.

  6. Janet Wilson says:

    Aha- found a few images from ‘The Casebook of B&M’ by searching for Crippen- he has his uses! I shall certainly seek out a copy.

  7. andrea yang says:

    I spotted Arthur right away, but did not see anywhere you mentioned his name. Was the teenager the young hacker you featured in a Bryant and May book too?

  8. andrea yang says:

    Speaking of seeing characters in your head, have you seen Amy Tan’s new blog posts about the trend in book covers that only show a partial face so that readers can imagine the characters for themselves. She quite cleverly also changed her facebook/twitter profile of herself and her dog to conform to the new trend.

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    Yeah, my reservations were a)I found I didn’t really want to know what Bryant and May looked like, really, or any other character for that matter and b) the stories were ones I’d already read – as I remember. Still a handsome book. Keith can really illustrate.

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    Been meaning to add that regarding the B&M series, there is a very informative post on them and the books way back on August 8, 2009. Worth a refreshing the memory look.

  11. Reuben says:

    Sadly there does seem to be only a small market for crime comics, as DC comics found out despite using writers like Rankin & Mina.
    Crime comics seem to be American hard-boiled style like the excellent Criminal (by Brubaker & Phillips) + adaptations of the Parker novels, or conspiracy style thrillers. Can’t think of anything considered eccentric & English really.
    The B&M comic was always going to be a tough sell sadly. If there was little publicity for a mainly mail-order only comic, casual buyers (+existing B&M readers not all of which read this blog regularly if at all) would probably not be aware of it. Good shops like Page45 + GOSH! if they had copies may have helped push it.
    I think price may have put people off. It may not have been possible to do a cheaper paperback version for all I know, but it may of helped to sell a few more. But like I said the comic book scene being what it is B&M probably would never have sold in huge numbers anyway judging by some of the sales figures I hear about.

  12. keith page says:

    It was a great pity there won’t be a sequel to the ‘Casebook’; I had in mind a slightly different style which would have suited the characters.However, I liked ‘Calabash’ very much and I reckon that if it was presented in the right way it would appeal to a wider readership.The seaside town? a cross between Eastbourne and Herne Bay with a bit of Brighton thrown in. I’ll be looking forward to it if the project goes ahead.

  13. m says:

    I just got to that point in Plastic and was delighted to see Mr. Bryant make an appearance. It’s too bad there won’t be a casebook sequel. I think it’s a great quick intro to the PCU and got a friend interested in reading the books.

  14. pheeny says:

    Dan: “Yeah, my reservations were a)I found I didn’t really want to know what Bryant and May looked like”

    My reservation was that I already know EXACTLY what they look like 😉

  15. agatha hamilton says:

    Isn’t the thing, too, that comics/graphic novels are just too reminiscent of childhood? Too slow? Not nearly as much content? Not enough words? (Can’t italicise ‘words’ but would have liked to).

  16. Helen Martin says:

    The sample drawings we saw were exactly right for my version of the B&M characters and somehow I missed ordering the book. Now I may have to do some actual searching for one.

  17. snowy says:

    I have had a notion for a number of years that if positioned and designed in the right way, the graphic novel/comic book could replace the ‘large print’ book.

    The generation that grew up with ‘comics’ are slowly becoming the audience for the large print market. The anti-comic stigma there once was is slowly fading.

    If “a picture is really worth a thousand words”, then it removes the need to plough through all the descriptive content and just leaves ‘the action’.

    [In case the subject of comics on tablets comes up. The sticking point is handling ‘flow’, fix that and your’re ‘golden’. Two ways out, bigger tablets, A3 sized, or completely re-invent how comic strips are laid out.]

  18. Helen Martin says:

    The fact that there is still a tablet problem suggests that readers of comics don’t think electronically about them, which would indicate that there may be two problems there.
    I just ordered the casebook direct from PS and it would seem they have copies – for those wondering. It’s not a cheap way to buy books, but I’ve been using the library lately so this is an indulgence.

  19. snowy says:

    ‘Flow’ is the big problem, particularly on smaller devices. Text is lots of itty-bitty pieces, so it is not a problem, eg. if you drag the side of this window in or out the text rearranges itself very nicely.

    Graphics are great big chunks o’stuff, and they don’t behave ‘nicely’ on a small screen, if you try to preserve the artists original layout it’s like looking through a letterbox. If you allow the graphics to float, it either turns into a ‘picture book’ [think early reader or Ladybird book] and can break the narrative. Or just looks like a horrible mess, the elements lose any cohesion with each other.

    [See link for a very rough example]

    Some of the traditional 3×4, 4×4 formats work to a point, but where a box drops to double depth, or 4 boxes are merged into a single square box it fails.

    [Extra (very, very) nerdy note: they probably need to be contructed as SVG images to be scalable without to much onboard processing.]

  20. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy – nothing happened. I’ll try it again later, perhaps I wasn’t changing it enough or something.

  21. Janet Wilson says:

    Just ordered ‘Casebook’ from Forbidden Planet- so that’s bought you a drink,Admin!

  22. Reuben says:

    “many people said they did not want to see my characters defined so clearly. They preferred them to exist in their heads.”
    That is a valid point of course, but if it were a TV prog or film whether that excuse would be used still? It’s something I rarely hear anyone say when it comes to watching their favourite book on the big screen.

  23. Dan Terrell says:

    Reuben – In the 30s-70s the casting of films was a major topic. Gone With the Wind was very carefully cast and people still howled. Many did not wasn’t Clark Gable preferring Leslie Howard, but once they saw the film gable inhabited the role. A great old book, Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner also caused casting flaps particular in G.B., but the cast turned out fine Fritz Lang however messed about with the story! (It’s a great old book by the way. If you like Stevenson than Falkner comes a close second.) Same with TV when they were first making Perry Mason, the stir over who would play Mason, Street and Berger was huge. It bit of that with Robert Parker’s detective novel, too. Even bit over the cast for the planned Batman vs. Superman. Maybe it is less now a days because so many actors are computer enhanced or in full body shell and helmet.:)

  24. Dan Terrell says:

    Well, the above was typed a bit too fast. ANyway, here I go back to editing… or maybe that’s enough for today.

  25. Janet Wilson says:

    Dan, you reminded me of how seriously my mother took movie matters. Audrey Hepburn should never have been in My Fair Lady, but Burt Lancaster was briliant in Elmer Gantry etc.

  26. admin says:

    Thanks for all your comments on this – I hope Keith and I will reunite to produce something fresh. and I’m still glad we did the experiment. For us, at least, it resulted in an elegant volume, beautifully printed.

  27. jan says:

    are you really going to do that to Calabash ? Remember, remember the Darkest Day debacle. sorry this is so late just got onto a computer not being going to the library I owe too much in fines to keep going.

  28. jan says:

    by the way that’s a lovely picture of the old boys they have never looked better I like the rain and houses and every thing

  29. J Griffin says:

    I’m well sorry about the graphic novel – I don’t like graphic normally but felt that the ‘feel’ and appearance of B & M was fine and I enjoyed it! Was hoping for the next…… 🙁

  30. glasgow1975 says:

    I think casting is something that nobody in cinema takes into consideration these days – Tom Cruise the famous Hollywood midget being cast as Jack Reacher (6’5″) being the most recent example. They cast bankable names rather than matching actual characteristics regardless of the fans outcry.

  31. cat says:

    Just found this website after reading The Invisible Code. Have them all and now re-reading them while I wait for the next one. Fabulous books. Will also look for the graphic novel. When will they books be filmed? Trying to think of who I’d cast…..

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