The Verrine Orations

Gaius Verres was an asshole. He persecuted the Roman citizens that he was supposed to be ruling. He exploited a disaster on the mainland in order to line his own coffers, by accusing locals of harbouring escaped slaves. A man who stood up to him was so badly beaten that he died from his injuries. Another was crucified in sight of the mainland, taunting him with the knowledge that he died almost, but not quite out of the jurisdiction of the man who’d had him killed.

The people of Sicily got their revenge in the end, when they hired the young, up-and-coming litigator Cicero to plead their corruption case against their former governor. Cicero went for Verres like a man possessed. We know this because we still have the transcripts of his court-room arguments: a scathing, sarcastic series of personal attacks published as the Verrine Orations. Cicero never got to deliver them all because Verres, realising that bribes wouldn’t save him, fled the country, but Cicero was so keen on taking him down that he published the rest of his notes anyway.

The accusations from the Verrine Orations read like a…. well, like a proposal for a tie-in novel for Spartacus: Vengeance. As Spartacus terrorises the mainland, Verres uses his own position as governor of Sicily to exploit the disaster. He accuses locals of harbouring escaped slaves, and confiscates their property on trumped-up charges. He puts an incompetent crony in charge of his anti-pirate fleet, so that he can steal the man’s wife. The newly appointed admiral is so useless that the pirates actually attack Syracuse harbour.

My novel Spartacus: Swords & Ashes had to take place during the first season of the TV series, just before Verres took office in Sicily. But the temptation was irresistible to treat it as a prelude to the Verrine Orations. Why would Cicero be so keen to take Verres down after the Spartacus War? Could it be that they had met before, in a story unmentioned in the history books?

One of the stand-out characters in the Verrine Orations is Timarchides, a freed slave who works as Verres’ hatchet-man, intimidating witnesses, beating up rivals, and purloining government property for parties and orgies. For a story like that of Spartacus, obsessed with the state of slavery and what it means for human beings, what kind of man would Timarchides have been? How would he feel about having won his freedom, and what sort of attitude would he have to those who were still slaves?

So I put all three of them into Swords & Ashes. Gaius Verres, the newly-appointed governor of Sicily, ready to frisk the province for all it’s got. Timarchides his right-hand man, a former gladiator who despises slaves. And Cicero, the good-hearted young investigator, who comes to Neapolis on senatorial business. All are thrown into new intrigues at the funeral games of a noted local lanista, whose Capuan colleague Batiatus is providing the gladiators… including his celebrity warrior, Spartacus.

What could possibly go wrong…?

J.M. Clements is the author of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, out now in the US in paperback and on the Kindle. It is released in the UK on 27th January.

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Shock Treatment

“Oh, you just wait!” she said. “Our exhibition has got all kinds of manga stuff in it. But the coolest part, the really amazing part, is an Adults Only bit. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we understand that manga and anime cross over all kinds of genres and areas, and that there’s manga for kiddies and manga about pets, and manga for old people as well. So we get that. But we also know that the adult stuff is part of the whole picture, and we don’t want to leave that out.”
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Big Ideas

Sadly, it wasn’t the first time I had been called in to translate from English to English. The Japanese producer had once spent three years at University College London and was fully fluent, but he wasn’t quite getting through to the American producer. By the time I arrived they were talking at insanely cross-purposes.

The American thought he had the greatest idea ever: a samurai drama about a girl in Japan’s medieval wars – a woman warrior in the midst of all the conflict, kicking arse and taking names, all done in that wonderful anime style we hear so much about. All he needed was a co-producer. So he’d gone to a big Japanese studio and offered them the Chance of a Lifetime to invest in his brilliant idea. The Japanese had told him to get stuffed, but had done it so politely that he hadn’t realised.

The big issue, as far as the Japanese were concerned, was that the American was offering them nothing. Worse than that, he was pitching them something that they already had, and then adding a pointless extra to justify his name on the credits. It was like me offering to tell the true story of Prince Charles and Lady Di, but from the perspective of their previously unmentioned cousin, Hagbard the Barbarian. Why were the Americans inventing a samurai heroine when there already was one in the historical record? Her name was Tomoe Gozen, and if the Japanese decided to make an anime about her life, they wouldn’t really need any help from abroad.

In fact, the Japanese were rather affronted that the Americans had suggested it at all. Their own company had made a very similar show, which we shall call Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, only two years earlier, and the breathless excitement of the foreign offer seemed to come from a producer who had no knowledge of what the Japanese had already made and recently sold. It would be like me calling up Zack Snyder and saying: “I know, why don’t you do a film of Watchmen!”

“It’ll make a great manga!” suggested the American, hopefully.

The Japanese honestly didn’t know where to begin, and left it to me. I tried to point out that there were already a lot of manga in Japan. The Japanese are up to their eyeballs in Japanese comics. They don’t really need anyone else’s help coming up with new ones. They’ve got that pretty much covered.

Instead, they offered the American an olive branch. If you think this is such a good idea, they said, go away and publish that comic. If it’s so good, it’ll be a bestseller, and then you’ll have people beating down your door to film it.

The American was baffled.

“But it’s a good idea!” he protested. The Japanese sucked air in through their teeth and began to bow their way out of the room.

“What did I do wrong?” the American asked me accusingly. “All I wanted was a coproduction deal. I bring the world-beating idea, and the Japanese bring the… well, the money. And do all the work. And then I tell them if they’re getting anything wrong.”

Yes, I said. I can’t imagine what put them off.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #58, 2009.

Welcome!

It was the best of shows. It was the worst of shows. Whenever I had to cover my tracks, I simply called it Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.

I have been writing about Japanese comics and animation for almost two decades, taking potshots at anime, manga and related fields, spreading scurrilous gossip and telling tall tales. And my friends in the business didn’t seem to mind, as long as they had plausible deniability, which meant that sometimes, even though the real name of a work was obvious to everyone, I needed to call it something else.

So I picked three random words out of nowhere: Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. At first, it was one of many fake titles, along with such creations as Warriors of the Test Card, Geek Gets Girls and Devil Devil Beast Beast. But there was something about Schoolgirl Milky Crisis that captured readers’ imaginations, and the non-existent show began to crop up regularly in my columns on the UK Sci Fi Channel’s website, in Newtype USA, and later in the Judge Dredd Megazine, NEO, and SFX Total Anime.

As time passed, colleagues approached me with woeful grievances and axes to grind. They would press documents into my hands naming names and stirring trouble. All they asked was that if I talked about this terrible show or that awful production experience, I should make sure everyone knew it was Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.

This blog is just a taste of the kind of things in the book that is due for publication in early 2009. The book contains serious newspaper articles, seminar speeches, frivolous web journalism and bitchy gossip from the specialist anime press. There is hard, useful information there, even in stories about gloves full of custard and snowball fights with martial artists. As part of the selection process, my editors and I have focussed on material that educates and informs, even if also discussing the ethics of sending celebrity guests to bondage clubs.

Schoolgirl Milky Start!

Jonathan.