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IGNITION CITY Workblog: July 15

So I was sitting in front of the computer sometime in September 2005 watching an episode of DEADWOOD and thinking about how Alan Moore lucked into all those lovely postmodern ideas like assembling disparate adventurers of the 19th Century into the 20th Century model of a superhero team and remembering how much fun it was to write MINISTRY OF SPACE when my computer told me it’d finally downloaded a piece of public domain film I’d started torrenting four hours earlier. In a rare moment of nostalgia, I’d decided to download an episode of one of the old FLASH GORDON serials. Buster Crabbe running around, with his peroxide hair that he was so embarrassed about that he used to keep his hat on all the time while in public, unconscionable rudeness in 1930 America. Total nostalgia trip for me, because all of those things — the FLASH GORDON serials, the old BUCK ROGERS serial, KING OF THE ROCKETMEN and all that — were shown on British tv when I was a kid. “Steam-powered STAR WARS,” my dad used to call them.

And I’m watching DEADWOOD, the American cable tv series that eviscerates the Western genre, mixing history with fiction in its imagining of the last days of the Wild West. And it suddenly occurs to me. Where did the space heroes go when they weren’t in space anymore? I found myself looking at the clapboard and pine of the Deadwood camp and seeing it made out of bits of abandoned 1930s sci-fi rocketship, and a fifty-year-old Flash Gordon calling people “cocksucker.”

So I noted it down and put it in the Loose Ideas folder on my computer desktop. I told myself that I didn’t particularly want to do another “retro” book. God knows there were and are enough shallow retakes of old genres and materials around, ironic or straight.

But the fucking thing nagged at me.

I decided this year, 2006, that I wanted to do a fairly dense longform serial in the 22-page unit. I spent most of June trying to develop up a new book. Tossed three or four ideas. Because this thing, this concept, kept rearing up in my field of vision.

Looking through my Loose Ideas folder, I found a concept I developed back in the 90s, that’d had a few false starts due to artists bailing and the like. It was a setting in search of a story that deserved it, to be honest. The only thing about it that worked was the setting — Ignition City, earth’s spaceport, a circular island on the equator, fringed by launchpads. It was hot and dry during the day due to all the space launches — Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Summer” — but at night the weather took its revenge, and it rained and blew, and all the propellant propulsion expressed out of the clouds in the rain…

I started pulling up maps of islands, and through a misclick found myself looking at Iceland (which is spelled Island in the Icelandic), a country I’ve visited a few times over the years. Iceland has a forbidding “interior”, the moonlike centre of the country. NASA in fact trained Apollo astronauts in the interior as preparation for the moon. The country is so raw that some travel guides still refer to Icelandic towns as “settlements.”

And there it was. Where did the space heroes go to die? To the settlement in the interior of earth’s only spaceport, Ignition City.

I swore kind of a lot. I didn’t want to do another retro book, but the bastard thing was writing itself right in front of me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these years of writing professionally, it’s that you need to go with the flow. I’d be a fool to ignore a story that was writing itself.

I made one attempt to distract myself. I’d been thinking about writing something about explorers, and did some investigatory Google work, hoping that it’d lead me to something interesting that’d become a useful story hook. I ended up at the biography of a man called Lionel Crabb, a British diver and explorer who disappeared in unusual circumstances in the 1950s. Crabb’s nickname was Buster.

I gave up and dropped a publisher a note to tell them I had a new serial for them. I mean, you can’t argue with that. Someone was trying to tell me something.

Published in Work


  1. Trotsky Trotsky


  2. JeffAllen JeffAllen

    And here I was trying to figure out what Lionel Crabb had to do with South American missionaries. Good luck with IC. Can’t wait.

  3. Naoalm Dog Naoalm Dog

    That’s a good story unto itself.

  4. elodie elodie

    I look forward to this. You have single-handedly thrown me head first into science-fiction. No easy feat since I’ve spent my life, for the most part, avoiding it and all things like it.

  5. Damien Damien

    Wow… I’ll take that story, as a birthday present, any day.

  6. John R John R

    Guess it was meant to be, boss. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  7. So if Buster is there, is Kane Richmond? Smiley Burnette? Linda Stirling or Lorna Gray?

    Chapters “to be continued…”


  8. Oh, and Jean Rogers, Frank Shannon and Charles Middleton…

  9. michael furious michael furious


    I know that feeling. You’re head’s full of things you’d rather do, or should be doing, and then some bastard upstart of a nervous tic you forgot years ago suddenly decides it’s the prodigal child.
    And you know there’s nothing to do but bounce it on your knee. Because it’s the favorite now, and can turn the rest of them against you.

    But it sounds pretty awesome.

  10. Andy Andy

    IMHO, when it comes to explorers you cannot beat Ernest Shackleton. Stranded in the Antarctic for two years, his ship crushed in the ice sheets and he took his entire crew across the ice, across the seas and got everybody home alive. Then when they got back WWI had gotten going and they all felt real guilty and signed up to fight. THEN most of them ended up going BACK to Antarctica with Sir Ernest after the war ended. The least of those men could whip the biggest badass alive today without trying.

    Mr. Ellis knows about Sir Ernest I’m sure, but the people reading his comments might not.

  11. MrPerson MrPerson

    Moon-like surface, eh?

    With craters from fallen spaceship parts, and hella reinforced buildings due to said falling spaceship parts?

    With pools of poisonous emission-rainfall gathering in said craters, and making the air toxic as it evaporates during the day?


  12. Matt Metford Matt Metford

    I like how the title completely contrasts with the setting. I will greatly anticipate this series.

  13. Horrible But True:

    In the early 70s, Buster Crabbe did TV adverts for a . . . well, a girdle. The kind of girdle plump old guys wear to hold their potbelly in. The spots ran late at night for the most part.

    I recall him being earnest and chipper as could be expected.

    * * *

    I can imagine a local DJ in one of those settlements playing Les Preludes to fuck with the old timers.

  14. Josh Hechinger Josh Hechinger

    It’s a day late, and entirely unintentional, but that’s a whiz-bang birthday present, Webssiah. Thanks.

    I like the way you look at things, times past or not. I just discovered Planetary, and was just grinning the entire first couple of issues at the dai-kaiju pulp hero, HK ghost zig zag tours. And now you’re doing it with square jawed men who fly beautiful cigars made of fins and chrome. Only they’re all calling each other cocksuckers. Ha. I love it.

  15. James K James K

    For the record, I’m stealing the story of the Frogman Crabb for my own personal uses. Mostly erotic ones.

  16. Arsnof Arsnof

    “Hell yeah. CANCER FOR EVERYONE!”

    Ah, they all smoked anyway.

  17. Michael Climek Michael Climek

    You sir are a bastard for always making me want to buy your books.

    I’ll buy this one.

    And all the others.

    Cause you’re a bastard.

  18. My grandmother had told me that Buster Crabbe was her second cousin. I have no reason to doubt this, but I have nothing confirming it (aside from my mother saying the same thing).

  19. I recall you writing a bit about this before, something about Ming the Merciless out in the forest fucking about.

    I love the madness of it. The broke-down 20th century heroes.

    I don’t think of this as a retro book. Look at Winter Men, one of the best fucking books I’ve read in years, where they’re using the 20th century to beat the fuck out of the 21st. Retro to me is when people want to blow the past and make it all shiny. What you’re talking about seems to be the consequences, the bitter fruit, of all that fun. I love it.

  20. thank for a peek at the method behind the madness. who’s going to draw it?
    (yes yes, a little premature, but still- i wants to know)

  21. Sail Sail

    a little?

  22. elodie elodie

    there were two ‘buster’ crabbes. i think one of them was american, and the other was nicknamed after him

  23. Ah, serendipty.

    It’s funny how it guides things along if we remain open to it. Delighted to hear that you have succumbed to THe FLow and are pursuing the idea.

    In the last ten years or so, I am amused to see how fiction writers are embracing the powerful idea that archivists long ago discovered: history is written by the winners. (We cite the German seizure of the French Archives in the Franco-Prussian War as the prime example)…and the problem there is the propagandistic tendencies that exit in the “official” record…so I LIKE the idea of what Warren is pursuing.

    My $0.05 (I’ve raised my rates!)

  24. Warren,

    Sounds cool. I’ll read it.

    NASCAR folks in America believe in something called the “vortex effect”– i.e. – 40 cars racing in a circle at 200 mph would keep storms at bay until the race is over. There’s a long tradition of races staying sunny til 15 minutes after the checkered flag, then opening up into a downpour.

    It’s probably psuedo-science and entirely anecdotal, but it’s a pretty idea, at least.

  25. tim tim

    I know I’m going to get a storm on this one, but my first reaction was, “and why doesn’t that fit into the universe of the already established quote-unquote 20th Century retro hero book?

  26. Well, for one thing, I’ve finished writing that, pretty much. And for another, the story doesn’t fit into PLANETARY continuity at all. This is something completely different.

  27. John R John R

    I’m eager to see this one, as I mentioned before. Just reading through Warren’s ponderings had me thinking back to when I was a kid in Minnesota watching Flash Gordon serials and movies on tv. A local car dealership sponsored midnight showings, and intercut them with longwinded pitches for deals on brand new ’78 Ford Pintos. I guess they wanted to capitalize on the Star Wars craze.

  28. Kelly J. Compeau Kelly J. Compeau

    The gods have spoken. It’s a good thing you were listening, Warren.

  29. allana allana

    i’m really too young for all of this. but would you mind pretty please oh kind sir, posting every single thought that occurs to you during said work? i’m probably not the only one who wants to map out the specific thoughts processes of such creations.
    also, i’d like to know which ideas you’ve rejected thus far.

  30. I’m not going to mention the discarded ideas, as I save those for later. But, yes, everything else will go up here.

  31. Tom Tyson Tom Tyson

    If this does not come out, may you become one of Ming’s brides.

    In puce.

  32. Thumpsquid Thumpsquid

    “Throw him into the pit of ICE”

    sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Also, any chance you can kill Peter Duncan again?

  33. tim tim

    Well then the absolute fun will be finding out how and why that is so – you do continue to amaze, sir…

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