Returning to the fray, free comic downloads, Tender is the Flesh.
After a long period of absence, I’m breaking my radio silence because I feel a compelling urge to begin communicating with the world again and wanted to share the emotionally devastating impact of a novel that I can’t stop thinking about. If stories about cannibalism aren’t your thing, scroll down for updates on what I’m working on, plus a temporary link to download my sex doll comic with Phillip Marsden, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.
It must be twenty years since I read a book as quickly as I did Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica. Gripping from the outset, I made time to race to the end because it was giving me horrific nightmares every night that I read it. I’ve had nightmares before (most of 2021, for example…), but no other story has had an impact like this on me.
Tender is the Flesh is set in a world where humanity has adopted cannibalism at an industrial scale, replacing the meat in our diets following the spread of a virus that makes all other animal species inedible.
The protagonist of the novel works in a slaughterhouse, in a position of authority that gives us an insight into the range of grotesque accommodations that society has made to distinguish the moral differences between meat bred for eating and meat-with-a-name. His integrity is squeezed to breaking point by a series of circumstances that force him to rationalise the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children. Alternating between impotent rage and indifference, his journey mirrors the myriad compromises and euphemisms that we each employ to get through life from one day to the next.
There’s a dehumanising process that takes place on parallel levels of the novel. Characters intentionally deny the autonomy of the people who are bred, like animals, for slaughter, but the author also dehumanises these same characters by juxtaposing the mundanity of their everyday lives with the barbarism of their actions. Callous teenage children playing insular games on their smartphones, for example, while their parents haggle over the procurement of human cattle, left me with a pervasive feeling of disgust at the cost of the luxuries we titillate ourselves with.
Tender is the Flesh will, I suspect, continue to haunt me long after the specifics fade away. There is a brutal truth to it, reflecting on the inhumanity of humanity, that endures beyond the shock value and clever allegories relating to capitalism and the hypocrisy of our relationship with nature. I’m sure that some readers won’t connect with the novel the same way that I did – I can understand why some might find the conceit far-fetched or contrived, but I personally found more truth in this book than I have done any number of more-restrained narratives with less dystopian settings.
After much delay, our Gothic-horror series LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI is very nearly complete. The first sequential comic series that I ever started writing, LBDSM has been delayed over the past decade by countless hurdles but will be finalised very soon. I’ve seen the artwork from start to finish and we’re only waiting for some tweaks to the lettering and sound effects, to reflect some of what I’ve learned since we started all those years ago. I’ll be proud to have LBDSM complete and ready to share with the world and I’m immeasurably grateful to artist and co-creator Karen Yumi Lusted for sticking with the project despite the setbacks that we’ve faced.
I’ve also been working steadily on some prose projects that are likely to take up most of my bandwidth until they’re completed. Late 2021 I completed a novella inspired by raising children in isolation during the pandemic, THE LAST DAY I WAS HAPPY, which I have sitting on a shelf to give it some time before revisiting to work out what to do with it next. The practice of writing TLDIWH got me back into the groove of writing prose, preparing me for a longer project.
It was always my intention to write novels, and there’s an appeal in focussing my attention next on a story that succeeds or fails based solely on the strength of my writing. I’ve worked with some of the most talented artists in the world over the past decade and learned an incredible amount from our collaborations, but I’ve also been guilty of hiding behind their talents at times.
In my experience, when you’re pitching comic-books to publishers you get in the habit of expecting your work to be judged visually first and foremost. I entered a mindset where it felt like the only way to be taken seriously in that space was by collaborating with amazingly talented artists, but amazingly talented artists are in high demand, so that was a tricky formula to get right in terms of seeing stories through to completion.
I spent years writing short-form comic strips for magazines and was ready to move onto longer-form storytelling, but every time I hit on a story and collaborative team that seemed to work, the artist would receive an offer they couldn’t refuse. There are only so many heartfelt stories I can invest time into but then be unable to complete because of the schedules of collaborators, before beginning to question my own worth as a storyteller. For better or worse, it’s time to take the plunge and find out what I can carry alone.
Which makes this a good time to mention that the chances of BLOOD MOON continuing in its previous format are slim, but that those are ideas I started developing before HERETICS had even been announced and long before there was an artist attached. During a recent spring clean I unearthed my original synopsis for the story, with the working title of VENGEANCE: THE DEMON. I’d be surprised to see BLOOD MOON completed as a comic-book, but I’m determined to give you a chance to experience the complete story, as I always envisaged it, from start to finish.
The things I’ve written since September 2021 are probably the best of my life and I can’t wait to share them with you.
There’s always the question of “why now?” when someone emerges after a long period of silence, and in my case the answer isn’t that I have something to sell to you. Last year was a traumatic one, with a series of events that really rocked my confidence and caused me to retreat from the internet for the wellbeing of myself and my children, but the world is in a worse place now than it was then and it doesn’t feel like the time to be timid.
Proof of my continued existence - December 2021
The UK government is dropping pretty much all COVID-19 restrictions at the end of this month and won’t even take simple precautions like continuing to ask everyone to wear face coverings in crowded places, so we’re being left to manage in a societal experiment that seems destined to end badly. The war in Ukraine is also hellish and I can’t see any good outcome to it, but it also seems like an inevitable result of what journalist Carole Cadwalladr has been calling the first great Information War, waged by Russia in plain sight since 2014. And all these things are distracting us from addressing the Climate Crisis, despite the fact that we might already be too late to avoid catastrophe. This is not the world that I want my children to inherit.
No newsletter would be complete without some musical recommendations. Rock bottom is a playlist of dark and heavy songs I’ve been compiling, juxtaposing some particularly heavy bands like Cult of Luna and Rolo Tomassi with acoustic tracks by Eddie Vedder and Mark Lanegan, electro and industrial tracks by Poppy, Birthday Massacre and Collide, and punk-rock and metal by Alkaline Trio, Hellfreaks and Salem. With tracks like I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Pain and Fall Out of Love, you pretty much know what to expect.
Expect IF YOU GO AWAY to resume, if not as regularly as before, at least more often than annually.
And since you made it all the way to the end, here’s a link to download a PDF of THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (AKA A MORALITY TALE, WITH FISTING), which I created with Phillip Marsden for our BLACKOUT anthology and which was first collected in 2015. If you haven’t already read it, I’d say that this is one of the more obscene AND heartfelt comics that I’ve written. Enjoy!
P M Buchan