Sidekick Books are a very small, London-based publisher. Like many similar small presses, we don't really make a profit but publish books out of sheer enthusiasm, funding ourselves through other means.
Back in December 2009, we released our first publication: Coin Opera, a pocket-sized anthology of poems based on computer games - shape-poems imitating the look of Tetris and Space Invaders, sonnets on Streetfighter characters, a break-up poem in the voice of GLaDOS, odes to Wolfenstein and Paradroid, and more besides. The conceit of the book was that Dr Fulminare, Sidekick's alchemically-inclined editor, had trapped the poets in a 'brutal simulator' as part of an experiment. This is what it looked like:
From early 2011, we've been slowly gathering more and more poems by a wider array of writers, and are now poised to publish Coin Opera 2: Fulminare's Revenge, a much bigger sequel featuring the work of over 30 contributors, as well as 2-player poems mimicking the rules of certain gaming genres, super-sized boss poems, an introduction that explores the strange similarities between the two mediums, and a foreword by games journalist and comic writer Kieron Gillen.
The subject matter covers popular gaming franchises, as well as classics of the various eras, and even the odd browser game.
Contributing poets include:
Joe Dunthorne, award-winning author of Submarine.
Chrissy Williams, former NGamer journalist and author of Flying Into The Bear (Happenstance, 2013).
Ross Sutherland, a Times Literary Star of the Year, whose numerous shows and tours include The Three Stigmata of Pacman, and whose free e-pamphlet of Streetfighter sonnets was published by Penned in the Margins in 2011.
Luke Kennard, Forward Prize nominated author of four full poetry collections and a novella, Holophin, the latter of which just won a Saboteur Award.
Posie Rider, feminist writer and academic and author of City Break Weekend Songs (Critical Documents, 2011).
Dan Simpson, resident poet at the GEEK 2013 gaming expo who is touring his Pacman-inspred show, We Are All Orange Ghosts, this summer.
Nathan Penlington, Welsh poet, magician and raconteur, currently touring Choose Your Own Documentary, a show based on multiple choice gamebooks.
Abigail Parry, an Eric Gregory Award winning poet who was also shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize in 2012.
The cost of printing a first run with a proper litho printer on sexy Swedish Munken paper comes in at around £3,000, and we're looking to crowdfund about half of that amount, paying the rest ourselves.
The reward tiers operate as follows: you can fund us any amount you like. If you hit the £6 mark, we'll email you a pdf edition of the book. Please note that this won't be in .mobi or .epub format. You'll still be able to read it on most e-reader devices but it will appear as a series of images!
If you hit the £12 mark, you're essentially preordering the normal edition of the book, the one that we'll be trying to get stocked in bookshops.
At £18, you'll be rewarded with a deluxe edition, which includes not one but two bonus booklets. Super Treasure Arcade is an updated and redesigned version of Treasure Arcade, an e-pamphlet editor Jon Stone wrote for 2011's National Poetry Day. It features a short poem for one game from every year since 1971, when Galaxy Game, the first coin-operated video game, was installed at Stanford University in the US. All are written in a poetic form of the author's invention, so absurdly complex that he'd forgotten half the rules when we went back to add two new poems for the Coin Opera 2 edition.
At £25, the reward includes an A2 poster of all the contributing poets rendered as sprites in the style of Samurai Shodown on the NeoGeo Pocket Colour. This artwork also features in the book, and looks a little something like this:
Finally, for £40 you'll get everything we've mentioned so far, as well as a custom poem written by one of the editors, based around a computer game of your choosing. We'll publish these on our website as well as sending you a print copy.
Here's a sample poem by Matt Haigh to whet your appetites:
The Thirteenth Colossus
Don’t hate me for this – for my bloodied fists
caught up in your pelt’s oasis,
thighs buried in stalactites of stubble,
scuffed by horns of bone like missiles.
My elbows and toes grapple
with your colossal, questing bulk, dappled
by strange growths. I grope for pulleys and ropes,
wicker and wood lodged in your spine;
grope in the colosseum of your head
sporting pillared teeth and smashed masonry.
The thrum and chug of you, liquid muscle
between my legs, twisted thickets of gristle,
the whir of engines, the heart’s hydraulic pistons,
the accordion bellows of your cavernous lungs,
each blasted breath a mournful waltz – I feel it all.
Fossil of drowned worlds, fossil of the sky,
you twist ribbon-like between floating hills,
playful in your zigzagging as a box kite.
From this height I can taste everything:
the sea’s cerulean blue hot as menthol,
the musk of your tough leatherette, old as earth.
I crawl over the crenulated battlements
of your body, flat on my belly, through
hessian tufts of tubers, frozen nodules;
across your mottled, granite-flecked hide
pocked with whiskers like sticks of gelignite.
Your back is a city whittled to ruin
and I the tourist who will infect and spoil you.
Don’t hate me for the blade I slip into your sinew
then crack and twist as if disembowelling crayfish.
Every faucet of steaming black blood
splatters my cheeks, my tunic, my horned helmet –
and I know now how David felt, the spire of you
buckled, a brace of rabbits broken-necked,
as you descend from your former majesty,
the cloud fortress of each eye dispersing.
Risks and challenges
We've gathered together all of the poems we need and have a quote from the printer we want to use. The biggest problem likely to arise is delay, as this is a project that has already been in production for a long time and not something which we want to rush, having come this far. Rest assured we've spent enough time and love on this now to see it through.
In the pleasant and unlikely event that we're funded for more than we've asked for, we'll first look into the possibility of a larger print run. As we're using traditional litho printing, the more we print, the better value we get, and the better value we get, the more copies we can afford to send out to journalists for publicity purposes, which in turn helps with sales. If we end up making a profit, either through initial funding or successful sales, we'll pass on the greater part of that to the contributors, all of whom thus far have donated their time and work free of charge.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
It's both. We believe games are under-appreciated as artifacts and as both abstract and non-abstract art, and that their forms, their mathematics, their ways of expressing ideas and conflict, are ripe for fruitful exploration. A better understanding of the way games work, the way they engage us, informs a better understanding of ourselves, and poetic expression is one of the ways humans reach towards this greater understanding.
But at the same time, the way games engage us is through play, and one of the best ways of engaging them is through play. Most of the poems we've collected for this anthology demonstrate a creative-critical approach, a light touch, and an awareness of tropes and of the surreality - sometimes absurdity - of game-worlds. These are not poems which need to be run through a factory of academics in order to be understood. They're packed with visual and verbal jokes, and a sense of wild experimentation runs through the collection.
While there's obvious a lot that will be familiar to gamers, the poems collected are not rammed with in-jokes, and are no less accessible than poems about countries you've never been to or events you've never witnessed. At least a part of the delight in a literary focus on games is the re-recognition of their strangeness, the way they occupy a space similar to dreams or myth: recognisable, but at one remove from our own world. If you have a taste for literature that falls in any way outside the bracket of domestic realism or historical account, you should find much to like in Coin Opera 2.
Poetry is, of course, like any art, easier to grasp the more you read of it, but many of the young writers who are included in the book are well practised in writing for new audiences and have a background in live performance. If you're remotely interested in the subject matter, and so long as you're willing to embrace a certain amount of ambiguity and word-play, you shouldn't have any difficulties with Coin Opera 2.
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