Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 8 April 2011

per aspera ad astra

H - We start with a picture of a wall this week. It seems apt, don’t you think, Rex?
R – Yes. I do.
H - Honestly, sometimes you’re so frackin’ monosyllabic.
R - Yes. I am.
H - It’s like that is it?
R - Yes. It is.
H – Right. Before we explain about our three week foray down a cul-de-sac (a phrase which the French apparently do not use!), we have pleasure in announcing that we will be posting the long-awaited pages introducing our magician, John Barelycorn, next week. The pictures on this post are teasing tasters from those spreads. In keeping with the nature of this blog as an exploration of our working process, the pages we'll be posting next week will be in 'scribble form,' rather than the more polished finished art of the comics pages we've shown here in the past. 
R - Howard, why don’t you explain the link between these John Barleycorn layouts and our journey into the brick wall? And try to do so, without using expletives from Battlestar Gallactica or resorting to any French, please. 
H - I’ll try, but I can’t promise! Last week we explained that we were working on a new idea for how to progress with the novel. We were both very excited by it. . . .
R - But come this last Monday, we realised it was totally impractical, from just about every angle!
H - Yes. So, after licking our wounds and wallowing in self pity, we've gone back to our original plan and way of working. And we're now trying to salvage something out of the three week detour. This is often part of the creative process, after all: to go down blind alleys. One has an idea, starts to follow it, and most of the time these ideas pay off . . . but occasionally they don’t. This is one of the latter occasions. The idea we had is too complicated to explain, but suffice it to say it would have meant a great deal of new work over the next year or so, taking the project in a whole new direction. And suddenly we stopped and asked ourselves: But do we want to take it in a different direction? And the answer was: No. So what does one do in a situation like this?
R - One looks for anything useful that can be brought back from the detour so that it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
H - Right. The new story sequence introducing John Barleycorn being a case-in-point. 
R – Yes, indeed. I think that John’s reveal is now much better than the way we'd had  it before, hence we are adding new pages for this. It tells us more about John and Reeve in a few spreads than we were able to explain in entire chapters further on in the book.
H -  'Which we would not have discovered if we hadn’t gone down this particular blind alley. All of which reminds me a little of one of the questions we put up in last week’s post: Do you need to go on a journey in order to discover there is no journey? Did we need to have what on the surface appears to be a wasted three weeks in order to discover various aspects of the work?
R - I think we did. We know our characters in even greater depth now, and that will be important in the work ahead.
H - We also found out that in order to bring this novel to completion by the end of the year, we are going to have to change from working part-time to full-time on it. A big change in our lives, and finances! We're more determined than ever to have the book finished and ready for publication by the end of the year -- whereas the new idea that we'd been flirting with over the past few weeks would have pushed the work well into next year, and possibly further; and this brought up a lot of issues for you in relation to your artwork, didn’t it, Rex?
R - Yes. Yes. Since the art for the book (as readers may recall) comes from three other projects that were never completed, I've been working with these drawings, in one form or another, for nearly four years. It is already tricky for me to produce new art work for the book which can intermingle with the existing artwork. Not that the style or presentation of my work has changed, but the underlying sensibility of how I tell a story now -- as compared to how I told stories four years ago -- is quite different. I can’t see myself still working within the limits of this structure one or two years on from now. I need to finish this project, and then move on from this art. 
H - I can relate to that very well, as on occasion I've been asked to re-create theatre shows that I'd once either directed or performed in. More often than not, there is something missing when one comes back to an old show. It’s as if the initial spark has gone, that ephemeral part of art. The muse, perhaps, has moved on, and one seems to return to a shell which no longer has much meaning. It makes me think of  Shakepeare’s take on this in The Tempest (which, incidentally, I'll be directing – in a Commedia dell'Arte version -- at a theatre school in Portugal, in May): 
‘And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself.
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve.
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.’ 
R - So say we all! I think that our characters are relieved that we've gone back to our original plan. They were becoming worn out by the new demands we were trying to place on them. They'd stopped speaking to me. Now they're talking to me again in a fresh way, because they know that their story is going to be told soon. They want to be let out into the world to play, and to say what they have to say, rather than having us forever trying to find out more and more about them, and squeezing them dry. We should leave them with some privacy.
H – I agree. So, Rex, I think I managed to explain our three week diversion quite well, don’t you? And I didn’t resort to expletives or French!
R - Yes, Howard, very well done.
H - So all in all, despite being really fracked off at the start of the week, we have realised that our the last three weeks have in fact been a worthwhile soujourn…
R - < Sigh! >


  1. Some very interesting comments over the past three week’s exploration of magic, and a mini-moveable magical feast going from this blog to Dharamruci (http://astrotabletalk.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-astrology-works.html) to Ezerbet (http://www.erzaveria.com/a-magical-feast/). Let us know if there are any other blogs that partook in this discussion...

  2. I LIKE Battlestar Galactica...I seem to remember Dirk Benedict was rather cute.

    About 14 years ago I wrote and directed a one act re-imagining of 'The Tempest' at uni (I don't think I'd DARE now. Seems so...presumptuous...but I was younger and sillier!) I drag it out and look at it every now and then, and think, it has good bits, maybe I could rework it? Maybe I could use those bits in something else? But though I still have great fondness for it, I think maybe it had its moment. There's a kernel of an idea that might be reborn as something else entirely, but that's about it. Sometimes you can't rekindle the initial spark, you're not in the same place (in time OR space) as you were.

    I was intending to reconvene the Magic show over at the attic, but life intervened! I enjoyed Dharmaruci and Erzebet's posts though. Maybe in a future post!

  3. I know that brick wall all too well, one encounters it in film projects too, and all too often so much money has been spent on that blind alley that the temptation to just keep heading toward that brick wall can out-weigh the artistic need to turn back.

    Sometimes these "wrong turnings" can be addressed and salvaged in the editing room, so in my line of work as a sound editor I see filmmakers wrestling with these issues often. A very though-provoking post gentleman. And frackin' funny too.

    Glad you found your way out of your blind alley, and we're really looking forward to meeting John Barleycorn next week. I say "we' because you have several fans here in my office tho' I'm the only one who talkative enough (some would say "long-winded enough") to comment.

  4. The brick wall comes up again and again in the life of a creative person...but if the ideas are strong they surge through it in a different form. It is wonderful to see the process of this project and it gives me hope that someday maybe I can be part of a graphic novel. I love BSG too!

  5. Oh Mr. Ryn! I have finally come to see these pages you wished me to view -I love them very much and I admire you and your work. My spiritual and artistic journey needed your presence, and I bow to thee. I believe in myself and my work again. Thank you for believing in me and in my work and showing me such a kind support.

    As my Alphonso would say "At least we´ve got cookies".

    -Scarlet. www.scarlet.fi