Tuesday, 30 December 2008

20/08 Hindsight: A Social Media Year

Okay, you got me red-handed: I didn’t mean to do this.
Not real Social Media.
I get retail marketing – even emarketing – but a year down a line of friends, followers, forays and fuck-ups and I’ve tripped over the truth without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Well…

For example: -

In the pub after Amplified08, @Yellowpark commented that he’d not heard of Forbidden Planet until Twitter – iconising how the openness of Social Media brings niche Brands like FP onto the ‘High Street’ of the web. For us, successful marketing isn’t selling SF to fanboys – it’s throwing the doors wide and saying ‘everyone can come here’. And that ‘everyone’ is bigger than we could’ve imagined.

For example: -

This year has seen the FP Megastore become a satellite Hub for London’s Twitterers. They’re at every signing; at big events, they add their own skills and insights to the on-web coverage. Social Media becomes its own beacon – the more they enthuse, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more it broadcasts – and the more it feeds back, and so on.

Believe in what you do – and Social Media becomes the field that surrounds your magnet. All you need is passion, conviction and sincerity.

For example: -

There’s always talk about the ‘human face on the Brand’, about ‘accessibility’– for a retailer, it’s the web version of standing on the shop floor. It’s a calculated gamble – on the one hand, you’re the first target when the e-mud starts flying; on the other, you reach friends, customers, guests and clients personally. And these are the people that will come back – to the store, to the site. Social Media is about hands-on Customer Service – and it matters.

For example: -

The failure of The Headless Bartman at SxSW created the MonQee, a classic example of out-of-the-box marketeering that caught the web’s imagination and went rapidly Viral. Social Media Marketing, coupled with genuine creativity, thrashes the pants off any amount of ordinary advertising.

As a personal footnote, 2008 has seen me return (at last!) to my ‘real’ job – to being back at the core of things, to taking full responsibility for promotion and event organisation at Forbidden Planet. From re-entering the SF fan scene at Orbital to my growing contacts lists on FaceBook and LinkedIN, to my recent interview with Tony at StarShipSofa… as this year comes to a close, I’ve realised something: -

Y’know what? I get it.
Y’know something else? It never was rocket science.

The big secret to Social Media Marketing? It’s common bloody sense – sling in a little humanity and a little respect (and a big ol’ bag o’comics) and there: Twitter’s your Uncle.

Honestly: how hard was that?

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

Meeting Saul Tigh: A Snapshot


When faced with the upright severity of Colonel Tigh, you don’t want to be introducing him to the local Cylon.

After his talk at Expo, however, we did just that. I asked him to pose for this – eye-to-eye with his arch-nemesis and antecedent. The UKG guys immediately dubbed it, ‘I Am Not Your Father’ and it’s hard to know who laughed more.

During his talk, Michael was fast, charming, funny – he spoke of Tigh with a touching sense of empathy for the character’s powerful principles and final moment. He talked of Six with a glint in his eye, Olmos with a catch in his voice and Battlestar with a huge amount of love. It tickled me that he switched from third to first person – but only when talking about the Colonel’s sex-life.

Off-stage, the last of Tigh fell from him and he became Michael Hogan, utterly wicked, and very much one of the guys. Like Edward James Olmos at the previous Expo’s press night, he was so down-to-earth you felt he’d never served on a spaceship.

My fellow Titaneer Den Patrick, aka Little Kid, has the full transcript of Michael’s Q&A on his blog.

The UKG guys and I came away with a picture, instead – a Saul Tigh snapshot, a flawless fluke.

It's the perfect Battlestar ‘What If?’

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Friday, 19 December 2008

What Use Is Twitter? Thoughts on @Thaumatrope

On one side: the classic SF fanzine – fiction, interviews, Q&As – any good geek knows how they work; hell, we’ve probably written for at least one.

On the other side: Twitter, the foyer of Social Media, the micro-blogging-open-sharing-web-community we all know and love.

Spin the string and what’s the picture? It’s @thaumatrope – the new micro-ezine. Nathan E Lilly, he of SpaceWesterns and GreenTentacles, has drawn these two sides together as a result of asking, ‘What use is Twitter?’

Thaumatrope is his search for an answer.

I like the idea of Thaumatrope – the concept of featuring twitter writers’ work to a broad, open platform and taking science fiction to a wider market is twirling my strings big-time… but I’m not sure the resulting picture is turning quite evenly.

Twitter’s immediate – a tweet is there-and-gone, a reaction instantaneous. It has to be simple. Thaumatrope’s already spinning with micro-fiction, interviews, editorial comments, each identified by a different combo of hashtags, brackets and @’s, oh my. To unravel this tangle from a lone tweet, you’ll need to click through to @thaumatrope, then through the bio to a ‘Twellow’ style layout that’s more clearly detailed.

It’s beautifully worked out – editorial fine-tuning dances punctuation in every tweet – but from a marketing/user viewpoint, that double-click-through is a hindrance. I know dedicated followers will get used to the grammar-code, but is it just too complex?

Which leads to the next point: how to expand organically using the Twitter mechanism. Put into basics: if I see something cool, I retweet it, I pass it on, I put it in my favourites so my friends can find it. To utilise Twitter’s massive open-platform potential, expansion is key – and that means learning the site’s ‘best practice’ communication. Twitter’s strong sense of community has grown from the understanding that you talk to other people – and about what they are doing.

Simply put? You shout each other’s names as well as your own… so I’m asking why the writer’s Twitter name isn’t in their piece of fiction? I know it shortens the space – but Twitter is spontaneous; sharing, expansion, visibility is invariably triggered by one tweet. When 120 characters of pure creative genius is flying up my screen, I want to know who wrote it, I want to follow them… and when I share how much I liked it, I want my friends to know too.

To me, Twitter is an open platform to bring something you love to a wider audience. Your brand, your blog, your politics, your hobby, your sexuality – everyone finds their own niche, chooses whom they follow (or not), and the community grows. You have to be clear, you have to be immediate, you have to be genuine and you have to understand the basic principles that Twitter, like Hell, is other people.

Thaumatrope is a very deft, thoroughly well-thought-out execution – it’s solidly true to the traditional fanzine and it’s a systematic approach to spinning the two diverse sides to make the complete picture. I’m not sure that Twitter is it’s ideal display medium – but this is only the beginning of an experiment. While it may not have many followers (yet!) the writers who’ve had submissions accepted (yes, you do get paid!) have been really pleased – they have genuinely sold a piece of their work, some of them the for the first time.

What use is Twitter? Above all else, it helps new talent, and supports the learning curve of new experiments. Thaumatrope is breaking new ground, supporting new writers; it’s been excellently researched and adroitly put together… but whether it can take advantage of Twitter's full might...

As an ezine, it can work for Twitter’s SF/F community – but I’d like it to be more.

I’d like it to be a nexus.

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

TAGGED! This Post Is Cheating...

A plague o’ the houses of Dan Thornton and Paul Steadman, both of whom have tagged me to write a random-shit-about-me post.

Dan’s tagged me with ‘Three-for-Three’ (apparently called the London Meme – or possibly Mememe); Paul with five random facts. So, in a daring, knife-edge exercise of info-fusion, I’m doing them both at once.

Below are eight completely useless snippets of information – you may be familiar with a couple.

Random Rubbish 1: Name of the Rose
My full name is Daniella, Daniella Louise Windsor Ware. The Windsor is my mother’s maiden name, added to mine when she reverted back to it. The irony of this is that, the year after I was born, Danny La Rue launched ‘Queen Daniella’ as his stage drag act…

Random Rubbish 2: The All Boys’ School
In 1983, nine girls turned up at Ardingly College. In uniforms from Harrod's, we filed down to our ‘study’ under the headmaster’s house (best way to keep an eye on us). We didn’t board, but we were there from 8:15 in the morning ‘til 9:45 at night – we were pioneers, we were terrified, we were trouble.

Random Rubbish 3: Arthur’s Mum
When I joined the Norwich Vike, I had a brief affair with a man many years my senior. I say brief, because he believed he was Uther Pendragon, Merlin, a direct descendant of Thor, England’s senior Godi and the cause of the ’87 hurricane – and that I should bear his child to Save The World. When I refused (funny that), he later told me that the Gulf War was my fault (as it presaged Ragnarök) and so on… He was still calling me up until last year – thank fuck, he seems to (finally) have got the message.

Random Rubbish 4: Bones
With fabulous irony, my fiancé Bones vanished at a Viking show in Tintagel in 1992. After the battle, we retired to Rocky Valley for beers; he went climbing around the cliff-edge and was never seen again. To this day, we don’t actually know what happened to him. I hope he found a mermaid and a cave of Pirate brandy.

Random Rubbish 5: Kiss and Tell
I used to be a kiss-a-gram girl – I donned lingerie and giggled, wriggled and squiggled for retirement parties, office leaving dos and stag nights. Bit long in the tooth for it now, but I keep the chain mail bikini out of pure sentimentality.

Random Rubbish 6: Non-Work Websites
The thing about being a pro-Geek is the edge of work and play gets pretty blurry – so I’m going to jump right over it. I’m (predictably) a LOLcat lover, adore the sardonic office humour of Despair. Inc (thank them for the pictures), and remain very fond of the amateur fiction on Literotica (NSFW - and you will have to seek out the good stuff!) All the proof you needed that I’m not a Social Media Maven.

Random Rubbish 7: Cocktails
I don’t know that I can name three cocktails! Occasionally, Devin and I indulge in a Stiletto – I couldn’t even tell you what was in it. I’m an old longhair, a pints girl, red wine when I’m at home. Give me spit’n’sawdust – and damn all these sodding chain wine bars to hell anyway!

Random Rubbish 8: Karaoke
Okay, I do sing. I’ve even been known to sing in public (but usually after the aforementioned pints and when I can remember the words to ‘The Teddy Bears’ Rave Up’). The only way I’d do karaoke is ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ – and on the assumption I sing the Meatloaf part. Not that the all-boys school gave me gender issues or anything. No, Sir.

And so, with skeletons clattering out of my wardrobe, I hereby pass the buck. To: -

Frederick 2 Baro (you asked for this!)
Ian Cook (blog, damn you, blog!)
John Rivers (nice shiny new site!)
Neil Simmons (dunpolitickin)
Rowan Stanfield Miller (explain cocktails and karaoke to me?!)
And
Paul Steadman (you get the Three-for-Three)
Dan Thornton (Five Random Facts from you!)

I’d tag Nik as well but I’m guessing he’s way too busy. I’ll save my revenge for another time…

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Monday, 8 December 2008

NaNoWrongMo: Sod The Dragons

I was barely 21 when I spun the first threads of Khamsin.

I was still at Uni; had left the TA to join the Vike – I was hyped on my own fantasy and my first writings were an outpouring of everything I wanted to explore.

Ernest Hemingway said, ‘There’s nothing to writing, all you do is still down at a typewriter and bleed’ – and through my twenties, that held true. It was a celebration, a passionate outpouring of all the wonders in my head.

Returning to the World I created has taught me something epic: -

I’ve changed (well – duh!)

In the intervening years I’ve walked some dark places and some beautiful ones; my life is very different, my thoughts and needs and the way I express myself. I’ve adapted, grown - I can’t remember the last time I actually read a fantasy novel.

The change is most noticeable in Ecko – 15 years ago, he was comical, a jester (my friend Alan dubbed him ‘the psychosmurf’). Now, he’s older, darker, more sinister and a lot more vicious – capable of just about anything.

Setting and environments are different, too – I find myself increasingly distant from sauce’n’swordery. During my ‘NaNoWrongMo’, I set myself a very modest daily target that I’ve spectacularly failed to reach – but have managed sustained wordcount for the first time in years. And the more I write, the more poignant the intervening time becomes.

You’ll find a new Chapter here – I called it 'Flesh' - and there’s another one almost done.

Author Jaine Fenn (with bizarre serendipity, someone who knew me when I first started re-enacting and someone I re-connected with recently) summed up how I feel about these changes. She said: -

Sod the dragons, let’s PARTY!

This isn't the chapter I wrote 19 years ago. I think it's better - perhaps my NoNoWrongMo wasn't such an FAIL after all.

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Monday, 1 December 2008

Open Source Creativity: SF Grows Up?


Once Upon A Time, a certain Scottish writer named Charlie Stross made his award-winning novel Accelerando available for free download under a creative commons licence. Sales of the book rocketed. The rest… well, it should’ve been history.

Last month, Pan Macmillan finally creaked open their technological gates and threw a couple of their SF authors out into the wilds of the web. Peter F Hamilton, Neal Asher, China Mieville – among others – are now available to download to your iphone… for a price.

Could this be the first step for SF to embrace the future instead of imagining it?

Neal commented he had a blind fan who was now able to hear his fiction and his publicist added that his downloadable work was ‘packed with extras’ – a tasty lure to coax in those who’d already bought the printed version.

And the clue – as if you needed it – that this is still about money.

Are they missing the point? If Accelerando didn’t prove that freely available creativity raises both awareness and sales, that it entices a reader into wanting to own the work for themselves – and to seek out others in the series…

In his Locus article on copyfighting, Cory Doctorow argues the case for creative commons. Here’s the man who possibly shares more information, more freely, with more people than anyone else in the world… stating that ‘culture’ IS shared information and that, in trying to restrict that sharing, we’re damaging our very social core.

I’m curious as to how his idealism will compare with any publisher’s sales strategy.

When I meet Cory at Forbidden Planet, I find he’s a Direct Line to Thoth – the ‘Directory of Wonderful Things’ is not BoingBoing, it’s Doctorow. He talks to everyone, about everything; he judges no-one and welcomes all. Every person has something to offer him – and he gives a wealth of information in return.

Here is rarity: a man who genuinely practices exactly what he preaches.

So, is it me – or is it kind of ironic that ‘Little Brother’ is available in print?

I’m still thinking about this. Is it indicative of the sf-reading public not yet being ready to give up their lovely, tactile paperback? Is it because Cory wants the book’s message to reach a wider audience? Or is it as sadly prosaic as this: that altruism, no matter how passionate, erudite and well-informed, doesn’t pay the bills?

Accelerando has shown that, for the moment, idealism and coin stacking can work together to ensure a novel’s success – everybody wins, including the reader.

As science fiction grows more and more into science fact, let’s hope the culture and society that surrounds it grows also.

Shared creativity is kind of the point.

The picture at the head of this post is from the Pan Macmillan website, with thanks.

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

What's More Compulsive Than Twitter..?

On Saturday, FP hosted an event with Urban Vinyl designer Jon Burgerman, signing his latest range of toys. With him, he brought rolls and rolls of his Burger-doodle wallpaper - a mobius meandering of pen and mind and curiosity that leaves the victim with one thought...

MUST. COLOUR. IT IN.

Suddenly, you're a four-year-old with a fistful of melting crayon. It's compulsive; one look at that paper and you relinquish all control. You sell your mind to the Overlord of Burgertown and his Posca Pen minions... your wrist belongs to Them now.

Jon spoke of the amount of blog-coverage his wallpaper had received, but I didn't really hear him over the noise of dementedly focused scribbling. Goaded onwards by his tales of kicking a Blue Peter presenter (with love of course), FP staff reached for more colours and shaded fixatedly inside the lines.

Surrounded by the Heroes of Burgertown, Jon watched his mind-controlled minions with gentle perplexity. Here is an artist who has created the single most appallingly mesmerising thing since Sid Meier’s ‘Civ’ – a compulsion that has spread onto the web like a… well, exactly like a virus…

More dangerous than Civ, more compulsive than Twitter – this thing is the words ‘Viral Marketing’ given form.

It’s not wallpaper. It's OCD by the metre.



The image in this post belongs to Jon Burgerman. I was too scared to take my own.

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Friday, 7 November 2008

Expo-sed: The Fans of the Future

A couple of weekends ago, I left the FP rocket behind and attended the MCM Expo at ExCel as a prospect of the UK Garrison and their alter-geeko, Reel-Icons.

And it nearly blew my mind.

Thirty thousand – thirty thousand! – CosPlayers, dressed in everything from luminous orange fur to full Devil May Cry regalia, armed with weapons of latex, cardboard and spray-paint, all high as kites on their own explosive energy.

The weekend directly following the affable, family-atmosphere of NewCon 4, Expo’s colossal attendance and critical mass has thrown my previous post into sharp relief.

These kids are the future.

From eight- and ten-year olds through all ranges of teen into early-twenty-somethings, they’ve embraced the expansion of Japanese culture into Western fantasy and made it their own. They have no need of Real Ale; they’re drunk on Free Hugs and an overdose of Yaoi. Lured by the prospect of the first-ever CosPlay Masquerade Ball, they aren’t passively reading books – they’re realising their part in a vast, interactive fantastical community.

There was a smattering of non-CosPlayers – there for signings and to meet the very sharp and funny Michael Hogan, aka Saul Tigh – but they seemed a tiny percentage, lost in the frenzied game-playing, Pikachu-cuddling mass. And perhaps it illustrates the point: these kids aren’t only moving away from the humble book, they’re leaving behind the comic and the television as well.

Why read it, why watch it – when you can live it? When thousands of friends uphold your knowledge that you are Cloud Strife?

And leads into a final comment: a question mark.

On the Saturday night, there was an incident in the ExCel car park. Nothing to do with the MCM Expo, it was related to a concurrent event. On the Sunday, Security had erected a bag-scanner in the front entrance – and were x-raying all luggage brought in by the attendees of the event in question. Massively ironic, when you consider the ludicrous mock-weaponry flaunted only meters away.

The juxtaposition of the two iconised the sharp contrast between fantasy and reality – and brought me up short at the fine wire between escapism and obsession. We all need release – read, write, watch, dress up, play games – it’s necessary and it’s human.

But as technology swells to encompass our imaginations and the fantasy becomes all-consuming, we need to remember something.

This world is the real one.

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.

But.

It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.



My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled 'Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature', it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Short Sharp Shock: Blog Action Day

Early in the morning, I walk through St, James’ Park and each bench is occupied. The same faces, the same routines; they shelter under newspapers, huddled against the weather.

During the day, you’ll find them drinking White Lightning on the grass in front of the National Gallery – and why should they not? Alcohol fills the emptiness.

In the evening, I see them curled in doorways down the South Bank or under Blackfriars Bridge – and London’s wealthy commuters walk by them unseeing.

The harrowing images of third world poverty are somehow unreal, they’re too terrifying; we distance ourselves from in them in the same way that we walk past the old man on the bench.

Today is the day you stop. You face the horror and the denial.
And you ask how you can help.

There are lists of links on the Blog Action Day homepage.
I chose this one.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

NewCon 4: Confessions of an Overgrown Fangirl

Ever have a moment where you wonder what your younger self would’ve thought?

A Northampton fishmarket is an unlikely Con venue – the distinct absence of fish, though, and the gathering of both talent and aptitude made it wonderfully successful. Art show, dealers’ room, bar and café all lazed in the same open space; an outside garden lured smokers with wire caging and fairy lights. Throw in M C Jester and the wonderful hospitality of organisers Watson and Whates and you have a very enjoyable, family-atmosphere event.

For once, I was free to attend panels, scribbling copious notes in a toxic green pen. Blog posts will follow on my two faves – ‘SF and Media’ and ‘Sex Sells’, the latter noticeably female-dominated.

Between events, I had time to chat and circulate and get myself known – and this is where the System Shock sets in…

…pause for breath.

If anyone had told my wide-eyed, twenty-something self where I’d wind up, I would’ve giggled in disbelief.

When I walked into NewCon, alone, I knew maybe three names on the guest list. I confess to being intimidated; I had no table to hide behind, no MonQee to flaunt. I took my MacBook as armour and FP badges as weapons… and ended up needing neither. Helped by the easy atmosphere, I found myself thinking, ‘you silly bitch, you know this'.

From a hilarious combat-Mum bonding moment with Juliet E McKenna to talking shop with Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington in the mesh garden; from trading affable insults with Andy Remic to having breakfast in an unmentionable burger joint with Tony Ballantyne, right up to a conversation with Paul Cornell about icomics (after Gary Russell and Russell T, making a hat-trick of ‘Who’ Gods in a week)… my younger self watched it all with an expression of perplexed amusement.

The moment itself though, was Sunday morning, sitting chatting with Marc Gascoigne. Once involved in the earliest days of Fighting Fantasy, Marc was approached by an eager fan wanting him to sign a copy of Titan – a book now rarer than a wargaming girl.

My late fiancé, Bones, loved those books – enough that I’ve never parted with them. It would’ve been surreal for him, and I caught it from his memory. Next time I see Mister Gascoigne, I must ask him to sign my copy too.

Anyway, by Saturday night, I’d run out of business cards; by Sunday night, my Inbox was noticeably overweight. Good things to come, I think – I don’t know how many times I need to explain to my office where the real work gets done.

Long time out of the picture or no, between Orbital and NewCon, it’s been like picking up an old re-enactment blade – eminently familiar. This is the place where everything I was in my twenties is tempered with everything I’ve learned in my thirties and that forging has allowed me to realise something:

This blade is mine - and I know how to use it.
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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Gorilla Marketing: Measuring the MonQee's Success

We know the Litany: spam bad, personality good, front your Brand with your face and you’ll win friends and influence people… far more than if you blindly blanket-bomb with endless crap.

Putting a simian in the rocket’s pilot-seat at EasterCon was both whim and gamble, lunacy born from Bart’s breakdown. Fearing a rerun of Curious George, I sat myself in the co-pilot’s chair… we had a blast at the Con – and then had to dodge the incoming missiles on the flight home.

The first salvo: ‘How much money will it make?’ Accounts don’t want long-term Brand visibility; they want pound coins. Sod idealism, how many woman-hours equal how much cold cash? If that’s your criteria for judging the project, then the MonQee didn’t raise as much as I’d hoped.

The second salvo: solid traditionalism. Flyers have design costs and print runs; you can measure the return of ‘money-off’ vouchers or count up new victims on your email list. Solid, easy-to-comprehend numbers calculating investment versus effectiveness; why take a chance on something wacky when we can do stuff with a reliable return?

The MonQee was wacky – but how good were his piloting skills?

At the Con, he was a magnet. His arrival on the Forbidden Planet Vinylsplatter website rippled out through the Art Toy world generating links and interest from here to New York to Singapore. Raymond Choi at Toy2R got behind the project personally – as did the Urban Vinyl guru himself, Toysrevil, and many of my Twitter friends - thank you to @linksmonkey, @Herne, @digitalmaverick, @loudmouthman, @deCabbit, @lproven, and @Loaf.

He crept out through LiveJournal, springing at me from fandom’s random blogs. He turned up in the Discworld newsletter and in the Orbital post-Con write-up. He was tracked, listed and reposted by over a dozen aggregator sites. And the authors and artists I’d shamelessly shanghaied were there for him as well –throwing their own blog support behind his success.

Watching the MonQee’s viral spread has been an exercise in astonishment. Some of science fiction’s leading lights now remember me because of him – (did I have to be MonQee girl?) – and he’s proclaimed both FP and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust wherever he’s seen been.

The MonQee, it seems, is a good enough pilot to land the rocket safely. I genuinely wish he’d raised a little more for the Trust – but I feel his ROI is off the scale. Should I ever be crazy enough to attempt this again, I’ll know what to change.

A final word – after his adventures, he was actually bought by someone who’d been at EasterCon and had watched him change from virgin whiteness to the character he became. My friend Zoe is his guardian now; she’ll be carrying him to more Cons and more fan-gatherings, continuing to get him signed – and continuing to tell his story.

Which benefits the Trust in its own simian way.

MonQee MagiQ: may his legend long continue.
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Monday, 29 September 2008

The Spirit: Showcased by Frank Miller

“Hollywood breeds very many male actors and very few… men.” Frank Miller, commenting on his choice of Gabriel Macht for the lead role.

Contrasting dramatically with the polished wooden delivery of the film company’s marketeers, Frank Miller’s passion for his project is equalled only by his dry humour – and by his anecdotal respect for his own Spirit, that of writer Will Eisner, who penned the original comic in 1940.

Whether it’s faith, fear or homage, the 40s feel is woven through the film. In Miller’s hands, it’s been fused with his ‘Sin City’ style cinematography to make his lead character an icon of the past in a story of the future. You expect him to wear a raincoat and communicate by matchbook; you expect him to encounter a dazzling array of gorgeous damsels and femmes fatales – you don’t expect his bloodslash tie, his urban parkour, or his – erm – footwear.

The trailer is a jumble of black, white and red, of sex and violence, drama and desperation; it’s oddly formulaic. Only after Miller lifts the screen and allows us to glance underneath it does its dark magic manifest.

He tells us the story, illuminating crucial points with crucial footage. The ‘love scene’ is dark, outrageously sexual, with an unexpected narrative twist that has more impact than a naked Eva Mendes. The ‘showdown scene’ is deliciously violent, vicious, shocking – but very comic book, and very funny.

The past-and-future, blend-and-contrast though, is iconised by the ‘clone scene’. It’s fantastical, the clones evocative of the goons in early Adam West ‘Batman’. Scarlett Johanssen’s breasts provide a fascinating backdrop to the Octopus’ latest experiment; it manages to be conventional, controversial, futuristic, humorous, creepy and sexy… all without losing the theme and integrity of the film.

It’s lighter than either ‘Sin City’ or ‘300’; a bubbling brew of seduction, violence and genetic experimentation that Miller subtly stirs with his speech. He’d opened by commenting that he and Eisner creatively disagreed for 25 years; he closes with an impression of his inspiration and mentor – the man he’d always felt was looking over his shoulder. ‘It’s too modern’ he grumbles, his body hunched under his hat, ‘And where’s all the colour?’

It may be too modern for Will Eisner – and perhaps too ‘Dick Tracy’ for fans of ‘Robocop’ – but The Spirit has rather haunted me. Sold by Frank Miller by his love of his project, his inspiration and his city – seeing the film through the eyes of the Director is a way to see it in its finest form.

Roll on, January 2009!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Better Vader: Designed

This is a repost of a guest post for AskPalpatine.com; my response to the Design a Better Vader competition. The full results and opinions of the other judges can be found here.

There you are, a scarred and battered Anakin yours to mould. You can do anything with him – anything! – change his face, his body, his gender, her image, its impact. You can remake the Ultimate Villain into whatever you want… an armoured giant, a perfect beauty, a sex toy…

Being asked to judge a competition like this means you have to make a tough choice. You know that the ten semi-finalists will all be arse-kickingly good – and you know you have to pick the best ones. It’s a hard selection – but as the Emperor threatened my son with incarceration in the Spice Mines of Kessel, I had no option: -

Forbidden Planet is about being different. For my three, I chose to look for those who’d thought outside the armour – who’d actually broken or changed the classic Vader mould and done something new with the Anakin canvas.

My second runner up is No 6 because it’s androgynous – even inhuman. I like the strong use of simple colour and the stance… and (oh yes all right) I like the weapon. Forbidden Planet aside for a moment, the Viking in me is still a bit of an ordnance freak and giving the New Vader a New Weapon seemed an integral part of the creation. It’s strong, and striking and simple – and carries the right sense of presence and fear.

My first runner up is No 9. It references Vader in the caricature helm and armour, but I love the play on Master Yareal Poof (the position of the lightsaber didn’t go unnoticed – no, I’ve never worked out how he managed to fight either!) and the comical contrast of a belly that would better on Selbulba. It’s sharp, well-drawn and insightful – and the wristwatch on the chest gives it a comedy-steampunk look that ties it all in perfectly.

My winner is No 10 – am image that has taken the traditional Vader and made him darker, more evil, less human. I love the picture – it’s gothic, dramatic, sinister – and it’s the one that’s made me think. Not about his WarHammer –esque appearance – but about how changes in his construction would change his character, would change the story in Episodes IV though VI, and change the whole Universe of Star Wars as we know it.

Could you imagine this Vader being mushy about his Jedi son?

If you’re going to design a New Vader – why just stop with how he looks?

Reposted with thanks to Emperor Palpatine, and to Diz and the boys from the 501st for their help in choosing a new Boss, right in the middle of Forbidden Planet's birthday party: -


video

Friday, 19 September 2008

MonQee Business: An Hour with Terry Pratchett

A confession of Heresy: I’m not a Discworld fan.

Don’t get me wrong, The Colour of Magic put fantasy on the UK best-seller lists, gave the genre a massive kick up the credibility ladder… With much respect to the man who penned it, it just never floated my turtle.

Meeting him, though, has made me wonder if I still have a copy.

Funnier than his fiction, sharper than his bright brown gaze – bandy words with this man at your extreme peril. Five minutes in his company and I’m not engaging in repartee, his (what else?) rapier wit is straight under my guard and curling me round jabs of laughter in my stomach.

His energy is palpable; his insight unparalleled – he challenges with the bifurcation of science fiction from fantasy. Even as I answer, he’s there before me – with how sf is mainstream, time-travel is current. I counter with the popularity of post-Cyberpunk; he turns my riposte with an image of a vacuum cleaner whooshing from a wall-slot – his description reducing the office to hilarity.

His family weave through his wit – his daughter who, unsurprisingly, ‘can write a mean plot’ and his approval of her bloodgore-writing boyfriend – a father to be proud of, I think.

He talks about Spaced like he’s lived it, about the new Star Trek like he fears it and about a random plug-in for Oblivion whereby an adventurer can take his mother Questing. The concept that Mum is always one level up is hilariously astute – I mean, who ever gets the better of their mother?

The thing that disarms me, though, is his comprehension of the nature of geekdom – his experience and insight paint word-sketches that are caricatures in accuracy. From the fandom’s stalwart ‘comic book guy’ to the shapely ladies with the echo-chamber cleavages; from the families that love Discworld to his immediate identification of me as ‘geekarina’ (as oppose to ‘geekette’), nothing misses him.

In his hour in the office at the London Megastore, he signed some five hundred copies of ‘Nation’ while he kept up the barb of his badinage – and he signed one more thing.

The MonQee has been waiting for the pen of his master, and now, secure with his final signature, the auction is going ahead here.

Sunday is World Alzheimers Day.

Please don't forget.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

People Like Us... Like Schwag!

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing is simple.

When you break from branding, veer from visual merchandising, lose your leaflets and put off your promos, you come back to the basics: -

Free shit.

There’s nothing people want more than the chance to grab schwag.

In its thirty-year history, Forbidden Planet has seen every kind of geek – and an advertising campaign based on ‘something for nothing’ guaranteed that our nationwide birthday party greeted all of them. From Trooper to Pirate, Bored Bird to Lone Loon – they braved rain and roadworks and came down to see what they could seize.

Dedicated Opportunists were queuing on both mornings. There were Families, dads and kids together buying toys from Doctor Who. There were lifelong Collectors, less worried about the freebies, using their vouchers to secure big toys they’d been eyeing for months. There were Pirates, cheekily wondering if they’d wait an extra hour for the next batch of give-aways. There were Geek Girls, stocking up on their manga and Pro Geeks, disdaining the lesser-spotted high street geek and buying only the Limited Edition stuff from the San Diego Comicon.

Numbers of comics-readers were unchanged – but more people braved the Heart of the Department and returned, enthused, with a handful of free Batman badges and a shiny-new copy of Watchmen.

The Lone Loons were happy and harmless; the Cool Teens were everywhere and the Cosplayers were back – fabric-sodden but unstoppable.

Braving the weather, the Troopers from the 501st did, as ever, a storming job of creating energy – and much giggling embarrassment. Prevented from too much mischief by pavement barriers and soggy concrete, their spirits remained undampened – and their collective eye for a victim as sharp as ever,

And yes, even with wet armour, the ladies still can’t get enough.

And if the Trooper Groupies were many, then the Bored Birds were few – I did chuckle on seeing one of the girls of Vader’s Fist stocking up on her Stargate stuff while her husband rolled his eyes in mock-despair. Who says the missus can’t do this too?

A party may kick off with a fountain of freebies, but unless a retailer can put its mouth where its marketeering is, even generous goody bags are just so much biodegradable plastic.

When the bags have gone – what’s left?

I like making people happy – from the small child smiling at the balloon to the blushing girl cuddling the Trooper to the delighted hoarder with the bagful of new toys…

...seeing Thirty Years of Geek in one place, people spanning every type, archetype and (occasionally) stereotype is the ‘what’s left?’ question answered.

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing? It isn’t the company. It’s the customers.

Seems that Brian Bolland's 'People Like Us...' brand from 1978 is still wonderfully true.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

So.Me, So.You, So What?

So. What were you doing, the Night Before The Net?

I was in the pub. I was round my mates’. I was running round with a sword in all weathers. I was singing round bonfires and waking up, sweating under canvas, still young enough to be hangover free.

My mates were the most important things in the world – and we moved mountains.

Cue a post that’s been stewing for weeks.

It started the evening I saw ‘City of Men’ (appropriately a very human and empathic film); it’s spanned a couple of Friday mornings at the Tuttle and got pissed at the MOO Party. It’s had lunch in Hyde Park with @markmedia and @iankath and it’s hit crystallisation upon realising that @annohio, always Champion of the Social, has moved her blog.

Whatever sites, platforms, methods of online communication we choose - they’re just the framework.

The framework for the people.

Somehow, I had lost this.

Attending the Tuttle has been a slow sartori. Friday mornings at the Coach and Horses offer coffee, croissant and conversation – and a range of people who cover every angle, business and level of experience. It’s encouraging and encompassing and there’s always someone with an answer.

London, then, has a very strong Social Media community – precisely because ‘hub’ events like the MOO Party bring us all together, face-to-face; they reinforce existing bonds, forge new ones and provide a riverhead for ideas and motion.

It’s common sense, isn’t it?

So: how did I lose sight of the First Rule?

If you follow my Tweets, you probably know I can’t get to many of these events. In the great arena of ‘be noticed: be seen!’ I rattle my tin mug up and down The Bars of SAHM and rely on Friday avatars to make up my social shortfall.

My web community has kept me sane, given me focus, helped my business and occasionally got me into mischief…

…but somehow, like a bad retail manager, I’d lost touch with the shop floor – the basics I instinctively understood in my fighting-Viking twenties.

Thanks to a little freedom, I finally have them back.

The ‘social’ in Social Media means ‘people’ – it means being sat in the pub, talking it up after your second pint. It means meeting-up with those in your city and tweeting-up with those stopping by; it means getting off your geeky arse and getting out from behind your screen.

I remember now.

This isn’t So.Me – this is So.Cial.

I can be a right fucking idiot, sometimes.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Lower Than Jabba's Genitals: The Clone Wars

What’s lower than Jabba’s genitals and stinks worse than Binks? Yes, it’s The Clone Wars - and it’s To Be Avoided in a cinema near you.

It was fucking terrible.

To all of us who’re old enough to have seen ‘New Hope’ at the cinema in ’77, the pitiful efforts of Lucas to live up his origins are both desperate and embarrassing. The voice-over intro was an instant let down – and set a mood of increasing disappointment for the rest of the movie.

A predictable narrative underlay a clunky script, both written by a crack team of twelve-year-olds – I was cringing during the ubiquitous fight ‘badinage’ between Kenobi and Ventress.

The caricature of the ‘buddy’ relationship between Anakin and his supposedly-cute Padawan – I would have punched Ahsoka in the face after about five minutes.

With the notable exception of Christopher Lee (what was he doing, involved in that?!) the voice acting was wooden and the ‘relief’ provided by comedy droids miserably conventional. That, at least, had the row of kids behind me giggling.

As for the Hutt baby – words… just fail me.

At any moment, I was half-expecting the screen to flick to game-mode, whereupon I would’ve picked up my controller and joyfully run any one of the main characters to a gruesome death upon the advancing droid tanks.

What fired the shot into the main reactor, though, was the sudden, tacked-on side-plot involving Padme and – I can barely control my shudder – Ziro the Hutt.

It’s been years since I actually walked out of a cinema before the end of a film, but the cliché of the camp and lisping Ziro was enough to drive me from my seat and out into the air, gasping for breath at the depth of the horror. Whoever conceived that character should be executed for crimes against the Star Wars franchise.

I beg you, don’t go and see this film. If you ever loved Star Wars, spend your money on the DVD of Seth Green’s Robot Chicken send-up – a true work of animated genius.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Mangatars: Attack of the Clones?

Like something loosed from your anime collection – they’re cute, they're dangerous, they’re massively viral. You wake up and your screen is flooded with them - they're mangatars and you HAVE to have your own!

In fact, I think this particular twitter virus had about a 48-hour lifespan as it's now fading – but two days ago, my 1300+ twitterstream was a summertime scrolling of bright, happy cartoon faces.

I found it intriguing – both from a personal and from a professional point of view. The moment you see one, you absolutely HAVE to try it for yourself - is that indicative of ‘a bit of fun’... or is our view of ourselves all we're really interested in? Do we look to portray an idealised version of our identity online? And if we do – is the manga/avatar only an icon of how we project ourselves across all platforms?

The personas we present online: are we real?

The questions are rhetorical – I’m sure it’s different for every person. Honesty always shows.

From a professional perspective, however, the marketeer in me knows that nothing catches a customer's attention faster than seeing oneself - in reviews, in top tens, in 'my fave' lists - on line. (It's fame, I tell you - fame!) Amazon have been exploiting this successfully for years. That may give us a hint as to how fast it caught on and how widespread it became - but not why it faded so swiftly.

It was very interesting watch how everyone projected themselves within the restrictions of the canvas – the one- and two-finger salutes were very popular (yet always accompanied by a smile), as were cheery thumbs-ups and a plethora of baseball caps. Choices of background were oddly informative – and more interesting of all were the people who chose not to follow the herd...

In Gibson’s Neuromancer, physical perfection is available to purchase – beauty is commonplace. If we had the option, would we take that extra step and be our mangatar? Would we all choose to look that chocolatebox in real life? Cute, flawless, always happy?

I think we're more human than that.

They faded so swiftly because they were, once the initial thrill was over, all the same. So many people said, 'But it doesn't look like me!' and they were right: however pretty our cartoon selves may be - they're not us. In the words of Tyler Durden, 'You are not your fuckin' mangatar!'

We're proud of our individuality. Call me crazy (I prefer ‘quirky’ or eccentric’) but I kind of like people being different.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Star Wars: No Clones Allowed

Picture it.

You’re Palpatine.

You have the Galaxy at your fingertips and the Dark Side curled lovingly about your ankles.

Your robes always billow.

And you have a new Right Hand Man…

Did I say ‘Man’? Maybe ‘Woman’, ‘Jawa’, ‘Droid’ or ‘Besalisk’. Maybe something new – something from the shadowed corners of your imagination or your sister’s list of discarded boyfriends.

Whatever your inspiration, this is your chance to design your very own Lord of the Sith – something to strike terror into the Rebel Scum and inspire generations of toy manufacturers to reproduce its likeness. Follow the link here and find out how to submit your design to Palpatine Himself and beat the impostors to win some serious Star Wars schwag.

And why am I blogging this? No, this is nothing to do with a certain Planet the Death Star hasn’t quite got around to blowing up yet. I’ve been asked by the Emperor to sit on a panel of judges and pick the hottest designs for the New Dark Lord.

No Clones Allowed – it’s time to break the mould!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A Very Long Dark Knight

All right, I’m just going to say it – I wasn’t wild about Dark Knight.

Don’t let me wrong, parts of it were superb. Strong imagery supported powerful themes; the entwinement of Bats and Joker, the order/restriction/heroism interplay with chaos/freedom/passion, twisting thoughout the film – iconised by the (sadly brief) addition of the much under-used Two-Face. A smartly self-referential narrative rather skilfully veered away from several classic genre clichés (the girl died – yay!) and the array of gadgetry was strongly visual, yet wasn’t over-used – and managed to keep its cool.

Sub-plot points for the realisation that the all-powerful Bruce can’t achieve this stuff alone. Any Bat-fan knows the brains belong to Alfred and Fox added a level of technical support worthy of Bond’s Q – extra bonus for the ultimate sonar gadget. Plus the young Commissioner Gordon kicking bad guy butt with a ‘Pow’!’ and a ‘Zap!’ – if this can be echoed by an equally potent whiskey-swilling Chief O’Hara in the follow-up, I may just change my mind about the whole thing.

However.

Faced by the awesome curtain performance of Ledger, flanked by Caine and Freeman, Christian gets bunged in with the lions – and doesn’t stand a chance. Out of armour, he’s outclassed – but add the appalling and predictable ‘gravelly rasp’ and the Joke really is on him. It didn’t quite ruin the film – but it did undermine Bats’ credibility and make me wonder if Brucey hadn’t made his trust fund providing new soundtracks for bad 70s porn.

Which brings me to the point.

There is such a thing as a climax that goes on for too fucking long. Another explosion, another confrontation, another hostage situation, another wave of tension-and-release… that’s enough. Faced with yet one more end-of-level showdown, I’m drained and no longer seeing the funny side.

Two-Face, though iconic – was wasted. The realisation of the character was thrown away, lost in a rising tide of detonation. The smashing of the Bat-symbol was a childhood memory over-turned – and, by that point, long over-due. When something that powerful and reminiscent is lost under a bad case of auditorium-wide fidgets..? Looks like everyone’s about climaxed out.

Why so serious? Because there are some Knights that just never seem to end.