Black Library Weekender

Friday night, I arrived at the Belfry hotel. Having checked and taken a seat at the bar, I noticed Sarah Cawkwell talking with friends and family. Another gentleman looked familiar, and after a drink and a though, I realized it was William King.

Brother Jhonas here was actually quite chill.

I let them be for the time being, waiting for fans to show up as I read Fear to Tread and sipped on beers. Soon, other fans started showing up. It didn’t take long to identify each other. I wasn’t the only American there, about three others showed up that I know of, probably a few more.

Then the gold tickets showed up with the other Black Library authors. I recognized faces immediately. Dan Abnett, James Swallow, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Graham McNeill, Andy Smilie, Chris Wraight. Sarah came over and we chatted for a bit. Then Clint Werner showed up and I had a chance to meet the man face to face.

The BLW hadn’t even started and it was already awesome.

Saturday morning, everything was set up. An Ultramarine statue was in the lobby. Rachel (known on the Bolthole as “Raye Raye”) worked with several other staff members to sell various merchandise, ranging from the most recent novels, art posters, hardback chapbooks and novellas. Before going crazy, I decided to get some breakfast.

Although not all meals at the Belfry were equal, the breakfast was fairly good. A buffet offered many basics, ranging from cereal to fruits, baked goods (the croissants with the filling were most excellent). Various meats and items were available which I tried including the black pudding (not to my liking) and a special salami (very much to my liking.)

Now, I would love to burden your eyes with photos of the various seminars and events they had. Truth be told, the lights that were over the speakers and authors gave them an overbearing shadowy look that did not come across well on the camera.

I’ll have to ask Cawkwell what she calls this pose later.

But the seminars were impressive and information. There was the “Writing for the Black Library” bit, where we covered a range of basic do’s and don’ts. Although I had done some strong research into writing for them, I learned several new things about submitting my work. There was the “Space Marine Battles” feature, where we had a chance to dive into the critical differences between regular Space Marine tales and these particular events. I scored an autograph from Gav Thorpe, though I wish I brought my copy of The Last Chancers.

There was Q&A with Dan Abnett. Signatures with Swallow, Werner and Sarah Cawkwell. That night we had an amusing quiz session with teams of the authors which, of course, the audience won.

I skipped the pitch proposal, where fans had sixty seconds to shoot a story idea.  I wanted to play, but a combination of jet lag and homesickness struck, so I sat at the bar and just drew for a while.

On Sunday, we were invited to one final presentation before the BLW came to a close. By now, the cat is out of the bag, but the announcement was the new Horus Heresy Musical, directed by the Coen brothers.

I kid.

A mix of the Bolthole crew.

The Horus Heresy graphic novel. During the conference, we heard one of the editors talk about how expensive it was to produce the art. That prose is so much more cheap than art. Apparently, they had to say a lot of things in order to side step and not give away the big surprise.

But the surprise is fairly big. A 100 page graphic novel of the Horus Heresy, at least the first we’ll receive. It may not be a movie or a Horus Heresy game, but it’s definitely something far more visual than the books and audio we’ve been receiving.

It was great to put faces to names, hang with fellow nerds and chat a bit with the creative minds who write such awesome fiction. Given the cost of traveling to England, I probably won’t be able to do it again for sometime.

So I’m going to end this blog post with a straight gallery of various pictures I took below. I’ll do a ‘cut off’ for the slower machines, so it’ll be up to you to see the rest if you want. But I hope every Warhammer fan gets a chance to attend the BLW someday.

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Warhammer Movie Ideas

The old debate for a Warhammer movie felt put aside after the release of Ultramarines. The feeling I got was Games Workshop declaring, “We’re doing this only for the fans.”

It was not a gigantic attempt, like as a $50 million dollar summer blockbuster. A rumor over at DakkaDakka put the budget for it at around $14 million (£9 million). I gathered that it was not for those uninitiated into the 40k cult. But an idea had been boiling in my head to consider trying my hand at a fan made film someday.

But then I thought about Damnatus, the fan-made unofficial 40k movie that was… “unreleased” a few years back. Story goes that Damnatus was supposed to be a strictly fan made movie with respect to Games Workshop’s IP permissions. The problem came about when it was discovered that German IP laws would require that the movie and its content would belong to the creator of the movie. This loophole was cause enough for Games Workshop to deny permission for its release.

The ugly lesson learned is that time would have to be spent reviewing the differences between the IP laws of England and the United States before even attempting.

Putting aside the legal groundwork of such an endeavor, I began to think about a lot of the technical details to make a film possible. The first issue was choosing which of the two universes I would prefer, be it Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy.

Although there’s more excitement for 40k, I think that Fantasy would be easier to do overall. We can thank Tolkien for giving us a lot of the settings and concepts within WHF, although the Black Library has added its own ugly details, such as the politics and religions, various races both original and not. Still, I believe that the backstory would be easier to settle into over 40k.

Another reason for choosing WHF is the physical settings themselves. Both 40k and Fantasy call for urban settings and for backwater locations. Both Altdorf and any hive would be almost too much to reproduce on a limited budget, so an urban location is not preferable. And 40k often has the Imperial stamp over everything. Landing pads, the aquila, all the vehicles… it would be an awful lot to reproduce even if it takes place in a rural area.

I have recently started reading Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by C.L. Werner. As I ventured through the short stories, it quietly dawned on me that this would be good material to craft a movie from.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

First, many of the stories started with some scholarly character who took down Brunner’s tales. This gives the director the option of using a narrator to fill in the details and explain any issues that may not be easily shown on the screen. These stories aren’t overwhelming with the details, and they are both faithful to the source material and easy to spoon feed to the uninitiated.

Second, Brunner’s tales thus far (I’m three and a half stories in), have taken place more on along the frontier than anywhere near Altdorf. Finding a place to shoot hills and forests would be much easier than constructing huge keeps and streets, especially on a fan’s budget.

Third is the fact that the tales don’t have to be made into a full length movie. The short stories could probably be made into 30 minutes-to-an-hour in length. This reduces the investment of time and money. Rather than banking too much , the success or failure of it can be recognized on a bite-sized piece of film craft.

Fourth is the fact that Brunner himself is such a powerful, interesting character.

Rather than a tiring origin story or extreme development, Brunner simply is. His motivation is clear. His appeal obvious. That steely action-hero glare just draws you in, regardless of whether you have any idea what Warhammer is.

But despite these points, there are hang ups and considerations for a short movie. Of the three stories I’ve finished thus far, two of them involve non-humans. Beastmen and a werewolf. How would I make such monsters on the screen?

It’s possible to try CGI if I know the right people, but I’ve never been terrible impressed by that sheen that appears on the surface of digitally made objects. Besides, it would be more interesting to come up with the right costumes and the right camera work to create beastmen. CGI has its place, but I want that place to be as minimal as possible.

Although the frontier setting would be much easier to recreate, there are still medieval/colonial settings that would have to be made. This is where being an American on the east coast pays off, as there are many historic locations that might work for this effort. Indeed, I feel the setting is more a matter of research and creativity than stage construction.

Another concern is the sheer number of props. Some of it can be alleviated by contacting a group of local LARPers (Live Action Role Players). These guys buy and craft weapons and armor for their sessions, sometimes looking quite authentic and dirty. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to put together a movie.

That would solve many of the problems, but not all. Brunner, for example, would need a well made costume. His sallet and armor would have to be carefully made. He’s also a walking arsenal, frequently described as having multiple throwing knives, a falchion, crossbows, a knife for combat and beheading and black powder pistols. Rather than a single special or weapon, Brunner comes equipped for almost any situation.

Another concern are horses. While a horse farm would be willing to provide horses for a price, many scenes involve horses being spooker or involved in combat. And there is absolutely no way I’m going to risk the safety of amateur actors around a large, scared animal.

Which brings me to my final concern for the moment. Finding good actors. Brunner has an advantage in that his face is frequently hidden by his helmet. All I’d need is someone capable of portraying a general badass for a few hours, no heavy emotional scenes or points of incredible drama.

I think there’s a part of me that would want to try it myself, but being a main actor/director has always struck me as a somewhat vain pursuit. And besides, for a first effort I think it would be best to try just the directing. And everyone else? Well, it depends on the role and whether or not I can find people skilled enough to fill it.

I think this Halloween, I’ll keep my eye out for particularly talented costume makers. Who knows? It may solve at least one of these issues.

The Ultramarines Omnibus

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

A good book to read for the uninitiated? One for chaps who are new to the works of the Black Library?

Well, that’s kind of tough to answer. Some books are easier than others to figure out and understand. But there’s no escaping that a person’s first trip into Warhammer 40k is likely to be like slamming a person’s head into a bucket of ice cold water. There’s a lot to learn, from the terminology to the factions, the history of each race.

So I can’t say with absolutely certainty, but Graham McNeill’s The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the better bets.

The Ultramarines Space Marine chapter is probably one of the few who are fairly more benevolent than most. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe. Nothing in the universe is ever that simple, and the moral grey areas lend themselves to complexities that make almost every faction and character more well rounded than we are ever first led to believe. But for a new guy, this is fine.

In Nightbringer, Uriel Ventris is the main character of the series, who is captain of the 4th Company. Together with his ally and close friend Pasanius, the 4th Company is sent to look into the civil unrest and Dark Eldar raids against the planet of Pavonis. I cannot really say much more without risking plot spoilers.

Of the three books in the trilogy, Nightbringer is actually my least favorite. It goes for some mystery elements that do not particularly mesh with the direction Ultramarines are expected to take in my opinion. But for the new guy, the first of the three books will do them a favor in illustrating the infighting and complications of life and politics on just about every world in the Imperium. Still, despite any personal misgivings about the first book, the second and third ones make up for it.

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

In Warriors of Ultramar, Uriel Ventris joins Chief Librarian Tiberius in forging an alliance with the Mortifactors, another Space Marine chapter descended from Roboute Guilliman. Together they join in the defense of Tarsis Ultra, who is in the path of a Tyranid fleet. Given that Tyranids cannot be reasoned with and seek to devour all the bio-matter on a planet (including yours truly), you would think the story would be straight forward good guys versus the bad dudes. But McNeill isn’t going to let the reader off that easy. In the defense of the system, various characters sacrifice lives to protect Tarsis Ultra. Or to save their own bacon.

Dead Sky Black Sun takes place very shortly after Warriors of Ultramar and, ironically, as a direct result of Uriel Ventris’ actions within the previous book. Punished for not sticking to the Codex Astartes, Uriel Ventris is stripped of command of the 4th Company and sent with his friend Pasanius on a quest of redemption. Due to an unforeseen and very bloody supernatural intervention however, Ventris and Pasanius are dumped on Medrengard, the industrial world home to the unforgiving Iron Warriors legion.  The situation is even worse given the power struggle between two Iron Warrior factions, one of whom is led by Warsmith Honsou. Who is Honsou, you may ask? I haven’t time to explain. But at the rate this guy is accumulating fame, you’ll find out sooner or later.

Dead Sky Black Sun has a back story to it that is told in McNeill’s other book, Storm of Iron. A first time reader can probably wing it without too much difficulty, but the previous book answers many questions that may pop up throughout Uriel Ventris’ quest on the Iron Warrior’s home world.

Given how much the Black Library sees the Space Marines as the most integral part of the Warhammer 40k universe, a new guy is going to have to get initiated with the Astartes sometime. Graham McNeill is probably the best author on the subject. Hence The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the best choices for bringing new fans on board.