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, 29 April 2011

fortes fortuna adiuvat part 3

H – In this week's post, we're introducing more characters from our story via your Tarot deck, Rex. We can’t put them up in chronological order because – since December, when you drew them all in a fit of excitement -- several of the plot points of our story have changed, and thus we're changing the tarot qualities of some of the characters. 
R - Well at least I did them, even if some of them are wrong!
H - Calm down, Rex, it wasn’t an accusation!
R - All I’m saying is, I took action; that's all I’m saying.
H - Hitler took action, Rex; as did Stalin, and Mao, and Genghis Khan, and Castro, and Bush….
R – Well, I just drew a Tarot deck. I don’t think its a fair comparison.
H - No, you’re right. I apologise. You are in no way like Hitler, or Stalin or Chairman Mao…or Bush.
R - I do like the odd cuban cigar, though, and I quite like the way Mao dressed. He always looked very comfortable.
H - Unlike you in your heavy coat – which, if the comments from last week are anything to go by, is a grandma’s coat for wearing to the cinema!
R - Shall we actually talk about the Tarot now, Howard?
H – Er, yes. It's an odd assortment this week, with some characters from the world of the mundus, some from our world, and Mathr Rindhr -- who readers have already met as the mother of Vali, the trance dancer.

11: Cromwell - La Force

H - So, Cromwell. What is Cromwell doing in our story?
R - He's one of our mundus characters. He has the title of the Lord Protector, which basically means that he is a benign dictator within the mundus. He is Force, because he holds the power to make decisions, and has an army of parliamentarian soldiers.
H - Roundheads?
R - Actually, they were called the New Model Army. 'Roundheads' was a derogatory name, used by the Royalists, because they wore ‘pot helmets.’
H - Is that so? I never knew that! Rex, perhaps we should explain a little about our use of archetypes in the mundus. I see each of the historical characters in the mundus as the embodiment of the archetypal energy that drove the same figure in the real, historical world. This energy is like a wave, which has emanated out from the realm of the archetypes to touch and influence people in the material world: in this case, Cromwell. The actions of Cromwell then ricocheted back into the mundus, and influenced the archetypal character in turn. So it's kind of a symbiotic relationship.  
R - The archetype itself has no form within the mundus; it is, as you say, an energy. If that energy is drawn on very powerfully in the world, it reflects back into the mundus and creates a form. Hence we find Cromwell in the mundus, and Henry VIII, and Marilyn Monroe, amongst others.
H - So when we meet Cromwell in the world of the mundus, he's not quite the same Cromwell we know from the English Civil War (particularly as it's 350 years later now), but he has some of the traits of the man Cromwell, and some of the same personal history. I've been researching the English Civil War for this book -- and as a result, every now and then I've experienced brief flashes of emotion imagining what it must have been like to live during those turbulent times. What must it have been like to decide to rise up against oppression, to maintain the secrecy of conspiracy, and to put ones name to a document calling for the death of the King? One would have lived in constant fear of the knock on the door by the King’s men. This is a very zeitgeist concept, as it is happening in many countries right now -- though in Cromwell’s time the battles were fewer and further between, and there wasn’t as much bombing to fear.
R - There was some bombing though. They did have cannon!
H – What, just one?
R – No, Howard. For heaven's sake. The collective name isn't 'cannons,' it's 'cannon.'
H - I never knew that.
R - Perhaps you need to do a little more research on the period, my friend.
H - Let’s move onto the next card….


12: Crawfoot - The Hanged Man.

H - Our readers have met Crawfoot a number of times now. He is the lackey of the 13th conjuror, here represented by the Hanged Man. What does this card mean in the Tarot, Rex?
R - It means no movement. You are literally suspended.
H - Anything else?
R – No. At least, not that I can say at this moment in time. 


14: Maggie - Temperance

H - Maggie is represented by Temperance.
R - Yes, because she is our heroine. 
H – Why 'temperance' for the heroine?
R - Because she is the voice of reason in all this. 
H - But we can’t say much more than that, can we? She is a character with particularly tricky plot twists, and we don’t want to give the game away! 

16: Mathr Rindhr - The Tower.

H - The Tower represents change, doesn't it?
R - Yes, it is the old ways becoming out moded. 
H – And that's one of the themes of our story, isn’t it? Old ways and beliefs becoming bankrupt.
R - Also one of the themes of contemporary society, it seems.
H - Yes, I agree. You know Rex, sometimes I get the feeling that the world is undergoing a paradigm shift in it’s understanding of itself... 
R - I really do too.
H - ... and that the internet is one of those catalysts for change, like the printing press once was, or the understanding of the helio-centric nature of our solar system must have been.
R – Well, I don’t know about that.
H - What do you mean, you don’t know about that?
R - I don’t know about helio-centric.
H - Is that because you don’t know what it means?
R - Yes!
H - It means that the sun is the centre of the solar system, rather than the earth.
R - Oh, okay, I knew that; I just didn’t know the word 'helio-centric.'
H - Well, that’s a relief; I am sure Copernicus will rest easy! The concept of paradigm shifts in the way we view the world links back to our previous discussions on magic. We have a collective view of how the world functions and then at some point someone challenges that view. Eventually the collective view of the how the world is perceived changes too, and becomes the new paradigm, which in its turn is challenged and becomes redundant. But, anyway, back to the cards!

17: Colonel Massey - The Star.

H – Here is Colonel Massey, another mundus character.
R - Yes, she is Cromwell’s number one.
H - Why the Star card for her?
R - I really don’t know! This character is still undergoing development. It wouldn’t be fair for me to say very much about her...
H - You mean you don’t know..?
R - I know she likes strawberries, and wears armour.
H - In all honesty, not all of the characters are going to fit perfectly into a Tarot deck. Massey's not a major character, so she has been somewhat ‘crow-bared’ in. Is that a fair comment?
R – Er, yes. I'm afraid it is.

19: The Sun.

H - We can’t say anything about this character, can we, Rex? It would spoil the whole story! What we can say, however, is that the image of the character is based on an 1825 painting by Thomas Lawrence of Master Charles William Lambton.
R - Yes.
H – This image was drawn originally for my book, The Immortals, as a representation of a demon called Mammon.
R – Yes, I was being ironic. I thought a ten year old boy in a velvet suit representing the least erect of the demons would be funny.
H - Yet it wasn’t…
R - No, I suppose not! Can we end with a song this week?
H - Why not, maybe 'Tarot' by Andy Brown, from the 1970's TV show, 'Ace of Wands.' Click on play to hear some 'out there' seventies madness...
R - Excellent choice!


Friday, 22 April 2011

ab hinc

The new working process.


H - So, what's today's post about, Rex?
R - It’s about…well, we’ve reached a point…it's, um, the creation of our production…studio. Our production office. 
H - Very eloquent. What about it?
R - Well, we're now in production. We've finished the pre-production work and we're now producing our book. We have a specific time frame for completion of the project, which is very do-able, and I'm delighted.
      H - The pictures today are of the John Barleycorn studio as we have set it up this week, in a two-room cabin near the woods behind my house. One of those rooms is my office, the other is an empty room I usually use for martial arts and theatre practice – and we've now turned that second room into a work space for our graphic novel. In many ways it seems that we've taken a long while to get to this point. But that's the nature of how this graphic novel is being gestated and will be born, is it not?
R - Yes.
H - When I showed you my ideas for how to set up the studio, you told me that it looked like a miniature film production office.
R - Yes. It reminds me of some I've worked in as a storyboard artist.
Rex is puzzled.
H - So my question to you then, Rex, is: Why didn’t you suggest working like this before?
R - Because we've spent a good five or six months sitting round your kitchen table working. It was only last week, when you took down the punch bag in your  dojo and made it available for John Barleycorn, that we started coming up here to work, laying the art out on the floor. And it was only after that that you suggested we should put the art up on the walls. Also, remember, it's only been the past week or so that we've been working full-time on the comic, so we didn't need a dedicated workspace as much as we do now. 
      H - Yes, many good changes seem to have happened as a result of our making the decision to work full-time on the project. Neils Bohr, the 20th Century quantum physicist, used to stage mock gun fights with his lab assistants, using water pistols, because he wanted to find out why it was always the gunslinger who drew his pistol last who would win the fight. He came to the conclusion that the second gun slinger was what he termed ‘decided.’ He didn’t have to think, he just reacted, and thus was faster at drawing his pistol. 
R - What has that got to do with anything?
H - I don’t know. Maybe we will find out in the fullness of time! You know, Rex, there might be another reason we've moved to the dojo. We're in the middle of a heat wave at the moment, and the studio's porch is a perfect place to work in this sun!
R - Absolutely.
H - Which begs another question, Rex.
R - Which is?
H - Since we're in the middle of a heat wave, why are you wearing a long, heavy, black velvet coat? 
R - I don’t know what you're talking about.
H - Well, you do know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about why you're still wearing that velvet coat in the middle of a heat wave.
R – Well, Howard, it’s because it's the only one I have.
H – Okay, Rex, I’m clearly not going to get a proper answer out of you about this; and to be honest, if you want to sweat like a stuck pig, then you’re free to do so. 
R – Well, at least I am not prattling on about water pistols....
H - Back to our discussion: We've now laid the graphic novel out in sequential scenes, and it's displayed here on the walls in a way that makes each scene easily identifiable and accessible. We can see at a glance where new art work is needed, and we have an over view of the story from beginning to end. We have information about the characters at our fingertips, not just stored inside a computer. This means that when we discuss them in the future, we will be able to take character information listed on sheets of paper out onto the porch and ‘walk with them.’ 
Howard is puzzled.
R – Yes. Except, um, Howard, I don't know what 'walking with them' means.
H - ‘Walking with’ lets us act out little sequences which will help to solidify each character’s role in the story, including exactly what they know about the plot at any specific time. I had a realisation, when I came to write some of the scenes, that I didn’t know what it was that some of the characters did or didn’t know about the overall plot. Perhaps this is something other writers experience too: a difficulty in distancing oneself from one’s own omnipotent knowledge of the story. Does that make sense?
R - I think what you're trying to say is that because you know everything, from start to finish, it's sometimes hard to remember that the characters don’t know everything as well. Their reactions and responses aren’t going to be your reactions and responses.
H - Very well put, Rex. I suspect we will also find that being surrounded by the characters and story every day means that we'll absorb them into our psyches even more. We'll be catching relationships and correspondences subliminally, which should give us a deeper understanding of the book. It's as if, starting this week, we're submerging ourselves fully into the story and the story-telling process.
R - So how are you finding working full-time?
H - It’s good! It's taken quite a bit of pressure off our workdays, since we can work as long as we need to each day. Also, our focus isn’t being split between competing projects now. When my theatre company used to rehearse a new show, we'd often go to a farm in the south of France, which was in the middle of nowhere. The farm was set up as a theatre retreat, and had no TV or other distractions. We found that the amount of work we were able to do there was exponentially more, even though, paradoxically, we also spent a lot of our time relaxing. When we rehearsed back home in London, we'd often come into rehearsals distracted by everyday living - traffic problems, housing problems, etc. A large part of the day was wasted on these things, rather than spent working. In France, all we did was work, eat good food, and lie around in the sun – and we got an enormous amount done. Similar to how you and I have been working this week, in fact, Rex!
R – Yes, I’ve found that even though we’ve only added a few hours to each work day, the output has been amplified by 200 or 300%. 
H - That’s not possible. By definition, the most you can have is 100%. I would have thought a man of your pedantic nature would have know that, Rex.
R – Hmm. It’s a pity you took your punch bag down, Howard....


Relaxing - Tilly is puzzled!

Friday, 15 April 2011

ad referendum

H - Today then, Rex, we are posting pencils of the pages where we meet our magician John Barleycorn for the first time.
R - Yes. It’s very exciting.
H - As we pointed out last week, they are not finished pages. In fact some of the ones in the middle are a bit rough.
R - Yes, they’re scribbles.
H - Yeah, I can see that, Rex. That’s what I’m saying.
R - No. That’s the term they use in the industry, ‘scribbles.’
H - Oh, right, I see. I so often forget that you worked in the industry and you actually know what you are talking about.
R - How so?
H - Well, you do such a good job of disguising it most of the time.
R - Why you…
H - On with the show!



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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! >


Friday, 1 April 2011

ubi dubium ibi libertas.

Crow, Magician, Cat - Rex Van Ryn original, 1981

H - As a result of the positive feedback we received on the comics pages we put up three weeks ago, we're going through a process of change in the way that we're planning to publish our graphic novel, which we are very excited about. We're still clarifying how this is going to work, which means that there is going to be a short delay before we post the next pages in our story. While we are busy working on this, we thought we'd just post art today...

R - However...
H - However, our last two posts have elicited such interesting and detailed comments that we couldn't resist joining in the conversation. In particular, comments from Jon, Mermaid, Terri, and the two Anonymouses (apparantly that is the correct plural!), together with a new post that Dharmaruci put up on his Astrotabletalk blog, have created a mini “Movable Feast,” focused this time on magic, science, and the nature of reality. This lead Rex and me into some interesting talks, which in turn brought up the following questions which we’d like to throw out into the general discussion.
Is there an objective reality?
H - Yes, I believe there is: in the sense that there is ‘existence,’ and existence is an objective fact. This is not something that one could ever completely define however. In the Kabbalah tradition, as I understand it, it is suggested that there's a realm of existence that we can never ‘know.’ At the start of the Taoist classic text, The Tao Te Ching, there's a wonderfully absurd discussion of the futility of even attempting to discuss that which the text is about to discuss in depth! After years of trying to find that ultimate reality, I have been forced to accept that it is just a mystery, and will forever remain so. 
R – Is there an objective reality? Absolutely not. Unless there is.
Is dogma created by taking the mystery out of religion? 
R - Is the Pope Catholic?
H - Yes, he clearly is. Now answer the question.
R - All right then. Probably.
H - Okay, I think that dogma is partly created by the removal of the mystery, but is also often quite deliberately created as a ‘political’ act in order to keep people under control.
Is magic an internal process? If so, is it only an internal process?
R - It is, but magic can be externalised if you bring someone into the process. For example there is the story told about an assassin who called a man at 6:00 on Monday evening, and told him that by 6:00 the following day he would have killed him. The man was duly terrified. The following day, the assassin called the man again at 6.00 to say that he had changed his mind and was going to kill him at 6:00 the following day. The man’s terror increased. This continued each day of the week, and by Friday the man died of a fear-induced heart attack. Of course the effectiveness of this method of assassination relies on the victim's state of mind. If the recipient of the phone call had simply said “f**k off,” the assassin wouldn’t have been paid! 
H - I absolutely believe that magical principles can be used to bring about change within oneself, and in that way it is an internal process – but then the effects of that change are almost inevitably manifested outwards as a consequence. I'm intellectually satisfied (through my studies of quantum theory and esoteric philosophy) that, in theory at least, it's possible for one to directly affect the material, external world through internal processes; yet I'm not quite as certain that it's possible in practice. Or rather, I think that it is, but it's hard to prove, and thus drifts into the territory that Dharmaruci describes as 'delusion,' so is best left as an open question.... 
Are matter and consciousness intimately connected?
R - Yes.
H - Yes.
If you are creating and acting on a magical intention, can one ever fully know the consequences of that action? 
R - No, you can’t. 
H - This question arose when we were discussing magic and the conversation turned to the issue of ethics in a relativistic world. This is something which often exercises my mind. Can we ever know the consequences of any actions? There is a Taoist tale which goes something like this: Once there was a farmer, whose horses ran off during a storm. The villagers all commiserated with him, saying, “That’s terrible!” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day, the farmer’s son, who had been out searching for missing animals, came home with a herd of horses that were even more beautiful than the ones they'd lost. The villagers said to the farmer, ” “How lucky you are!” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day, while breaking in one of the horses, the farmer’s son fell off and smashed his leg...etc., etc.. While we can’t ever fully know the consequences of any actions, magical or otherwise, I do think that the intention under which one takes an action has an influence on its effect.
R - Yes, I think that’s a fair point. I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but it’s a fair point.
If one can’t be certain of consequences, how then does one decide to act in any given circumstance? 
R - One tries to do the right thing.
H - If there are no absolutes to judge by, how do you know what is the right thing?
R - You don’t. It’s a personal thing, what one considers personally is the right thing to do.
H – Errrr...
R – See, you can’t think of an answer either can you?
H - No. I concur with your previous statement, damn it!
R - At last.
Does Aleister Crowley’s dictum, “Do as you will is the whole of law,” imply a lack of compassion?
R - I always thought it did, until you gave me your view on it. Now I don’t know.
H - I think it depends on whether the ‘w’ in will is capitalized or not. If it is, then he is referring to the Will as a force, which is a magical principal -- which could mean that what he is actually saying is that the Will is the moving force of creation. We are all using our Will all the time, though most of us are doing so unconsciously. If the ‘w’ is in lower case, then I take that to mean “do as you want,” without the corollary statement: “but harm none” -- in which case, it almost certainly does imply a lack of compassion. 
Does one need to go on a journey in order to discover there is no journey?
R - Yes and no.
H - Do you want to expand on that?
R - Does this spring compete with last spring to be a better spring?
H - WTF! 
R - That’s all I’m prepared to say.
H - My answer to the original question, then, is...probably. And does this summer compete with last summer to be a better summer, Rex? 
R - You know full well it does, Howard.
H - Damn you!
Is love the closest thing to truth?
R - I'm not answering that. It's too poncy a question.
H - Even though you were the one who stated that it was, in our discussion just yesterday? With a tear in your eye.
R - That was yesterday. I’ve moved on.
H - Unbelievable!