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The Art Of Mileships, A Very Cool Book About Flying Boats

"Toot toot!" - These boats, probably

Do you ever stop and marvel at all the tiny little joys you can still find on the internet? Like, how amidst all the horror and wreckage of a once-functional web, you can still, as part of your daily travels and obligations, catch glimpses of things that just make you go "ah, yes, that was lovely, thank you".

I do, all the time! I think for the sake of my mental health, shackled to this sinking internet as I am, I have to see something good every now and again. And for me a lot of those glimpses come in the form of artists sharing some cool shit they've been working on, just tossing up sketches or personal projects on Twitter, Instagram, wherever.

One particular source of joy, and it's a long-running source, has been Ian McQue's series of illustrations for what I can best describe as "floating tugboats". He's been doing them for what feels like forever, and every time I catch one, it brings a smile to my face. These fat little ships, floating around, doing their thing, keeping busy. Who needs gravity? Not these guys!

So I was very excited to learn recently that McQue had teamed up with veteran writer and indie dev Jim Rossignol to release a book based on the illustrations. And not just a coffee table book collecting the boats, either; Rossignol has been working with McQue on an accompanying narrative to go with the paintings for years now, and Mileships--recently launched on Kickstarter--is the culmination of that partnership.

Ahead of the book's debut I spoke with Jim about the project, it's past and how worldbuilding works in a world where tugboats can fly.

Luke Plunkett: Hello! For anyone who hasn't seen Ian's work, or read or played yours, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourselves?

Jim Rossignol: We are Ian McQue and Jim Rossignol, and we both hail from rather different career paths in video games. The bulk of McQue’s career was spent directing and producing art for the Grand Theft Auto series at Rockstar, which means that pretty much everyone in the world has seen a McQue image at this point, even if they don’t realise it. More recently he’s been working on movies as a concept artist (the Spider-Verse films, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mortal Engines) and on some quite popular book covers, too.

I've been a writer for years (PC Gamer, Rock, Paper, Shotgun) as well as an indie game dev (Sir, You Are Being Hunted, The Signal From Tölva) and the reason we ended up working together (initially on The Signal From Tölva) was that McQue has been producing personal work for the past decade and a bit, and we wanted to get that out to a wider audience. Our Mileships work—20th-century-adjacent flying ships, boats and machinery in an archipelago of floating stones—has been the dominant thread in this, which we talked about doing something with towards the end of 2017.

LP: I've seen Ian doing these amazing tugboat sketches on Twitter for YEARS, why a book and why now? 

JR: So yeah, the initial images from these flying boats date from way back now, around 2010, and we first discussed doing a book a good seven years ago, but then life did its chaotic thing and circumstances looked sketchy on a global scale when we first started getting serious about it. We delayed and waited. That hasn’t been a bad thing, creatively: the book is far more accomplished as a collection of work than it might have been if we’d been more hasty about it.

Ian's paintings have improved and evolved, so that the early works look quite different to what’s ended up providing the bulk of the material for the final book. The time has been right on a sort of “creative temperature” basis: we know that what we’re doing is the quality we wanted and needed it to be. There’s also a degree of building up confidence that we can produce and ship a book on Kickstarter, which means learning from a bunch of other projects, including working with another brilliant polymath, Marsh Davies, to produce the TEETH TTRPG via Kickstarter last year. Everything is a learning process, and so it has been with this.

LP: This isn't just an art book, is it? There's a whole bunch of writing going along with it, how much of that is your new work, and how much of it is building on stuff Ian has had floating (I'm sorry) around in his head this whole time?

JR: We’ve been producing material for Mileships on and off for years, and we’ve ended up reworking a whole bunch of work that we established in initial collaborations, both in terms of the paintings and in terms of written material. We created a big bible-like slab of writing about the world, the people, and the vessels in 2018 and 2019, and we’ve returned to that, picked out choice bits, and increased our ambition in terms of how they appear in the book. It’s gone from being quite sort of “worldbook” narrative in terms or approach, to something that is far more diegetic: it consists now of materials from that world, written in character, and allowing the reader to infer the setting rather than simply being told about it.

In terms of how much this is from McQue’s head: almost all of it, because he’s a determined world-builder. Ian habitually collects names, images, ideas, concepts, music, photos, and it all gets recombined through the complicated filter of his art process. There’s more material than we could ever use, and he is so prolific that we could easily dive straight into another project of this scale as soon as this one is finished.

LP: Mileships is full of cool ships, and now has a fleshed out backstory to boot. You guys worked in not just games dev, but stuff like movies as well. Any plans for moving it off the page and into something more animated or interactive?

JR: There’s nothing concrete, no, but we’ve certainly talked about the potential for this stuff. Because of his profile, people approach McQue all the time, but finding the right opportunities and worthwhile partnerships is tricky. This is his creation and maintaining ownership in an economy that just wants appropriate and commoditise anything artists are able to produce is an important thing to be cautious about and protective of. Hell, ownership is even a theme in the book, as you might imagine. If Mileships goes further it’ll be because we are certain it isn’t going to lose the identity which McQue has laboured to build for it.

Mileships is currently up on Kickstarter, and you can check out the campaign here.

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