PDF Essay: My personal ethics as a storyteller

Is the upcoming PDF Comic intentionally “Noblebright”, “Brighthammer”, or softening the 40K setting?

The short answer is: No

The longer answer, is that PDF treats a serious setting with humour, and inherent tragedy with balance.
I believe what makes Warhammer 40k an interesting and effective setting, is how humans are affected – at their very human level.
PDF touches on how humans would seek comfort, in one another, in the land around them, and in trying to make sense of their situation.

There is a difference between needless pain, and pain that gives meaning to their story.

Bodily injury is a very real threat, and not one that I shy away from. Nor are sickness, mental health issues, certain prejudices, and trauma.
What PDF doesn’t feature, are mirrors to real life situations such as racism, LGBT phobias and sexual assault (I will mark this part of the essay so it can be easily skipped).

Life & Death

I wrestled for a long time with who should survive PDF, and whether the series would be taken seriously should certain characters escape death.
And I realised that I was holding myself to the expectation that injury and death is the only way to validate a war story. I no longer believe it is.

I could kill off every single one of the main characters, and it would achieve precious little except demonstrates that people can die.
We know people can die.
What we don’t know, is how individuals act when tested. How flexible or inflexible they are. Who would crack, who would stand in front of the crowd, or who would take a bullet for someone else.

These characters have already been through so much by the time we meet them. None of them walk around unscathed.

Without spoilers:

  • The Commissars have been sent to Golbourne to retire, having already endured something so horrific in the line of duty that the Imperium sees fit to allow them to leave active duty.
  • Kate has watched her city crumble in front of her, and grappled with the distress of being unable to prevent it.
  • Susan has already lost her husband, and for years has witnessed her partner and son risk their lives for a city that will never thank them.
  • Having already served as a commissar, upon attempting to help Golbourne, Drew has lost his rank, his role in the Imperium, and can never regain the time spent away from the woman he loves.
  • Ronnie lost his father, his friends, and is struggling to hold onto his sense of home.
  • On top of the loss that led to being stranded on Golbourne, Smith faces daily judgment for being an outsider, despite having called the planet home for fifteen years now.
  • Finch, Arban and Raymond, who you will meet and get to know eventually, all have pieces of themselves missing in some manner.

I’m not here to tell a story of absolute futility, and grind these characters into the dirt. All that does is punish you as a reader for trusting me to tell a story.

There are sacrifices and struggles, not all of which reach a kind conclusion, much like reality. We only have limited windows into the longer lives of these characters.

Prejudices of Golbourne

Leaving out particular prejudice was a very deliberate choice on my part for a number of reasons. But the main one is that I don’t believe the people of Golbourne have any inclination towards prejudice for reasons other than classism and allegiances.
To them, tens of thousands of years from us, it’s irrelevant that Vincent is dark-skinned, or that Finch flirts universally.

As the story progresses, we do see that folk are willing to weaponise who an individual cares for, but not due to their gender or race. In an age of life or death, priorities have shifted, and those priorities have become much less surface.

That isn’t to say that everyone has an easy ride. Quartermaster Kate has faced a fair amount of exclusion for being seen as a class traitor. She went to college outside of the city, and came back with an education. This echoes a very real sentiment shared by many in parts of the UK. While Kate eventually faces up to her fears and rejoins the community, there’s a wariness on both sides.

There could also be no 40K story without xenophobia, and in Smith’s case, it’s literal.
On the surface, it appears that nobody seems to care about the Eldar walking around, but with a little digging over time, it’s clear this hasn’t always been the case. Even as children, civilians regarded Smith with unease and superstitiously linked the Eldar’s fall to earth with the beginning of the chaos incursion.

Do no harm

If you don’t wish to read about my views on sexual assault in media, please scroll down until you see the next picture of Hux.
I do not go into any specific examples of assault, I talk about the impact that themes and their use can have on survivors, and why I refuse their inclusion in my work.

A ginger cat with a visible sense of wonderment
Hux! Keep scrolling until you see her again if you need to.

It is not the place of every writer to use other people’s very real pain to tell stories, and make their readers unsure whether they can relax enough to take that journey with you.

The main reason that sexual assault doesn’t feature in PDF, even from the chaos cultists, despite it still being a terror tactic, is I don’t want to feature it.
It’s deeply irresponsible, to insert rape or sexual violence into a story just to demonstrate people can be evil. We know full well that it’s possible.

I want to create media that everyone can enjoy, and bringing something that causes real harm to real people alive today, just slams a barrier down on their ability to feel safe and access a story.

Never has a man walked away from a piece of media because it didn’t feature sexual abuse. But I can turn on my phone and inside thirty seconds find at least one person who’s had their immersion and trust shattered by its needless inclusion in a fantasy setting they were passionately engaged with.
I could put up a tweet and find dozens in minutes.
This to me, is breaking the trust of someone you invited to your world.

Do these people not deserve to read my story, feel included in my world, just because I desire to feel clever and include something shocking? Should they have to steel themselves against an actual trauma in their lives for the sake of poor storytelling and sensitivity?

Individuals who would claim otherwise, or posit that folk need to fortify themselves to enjoy media, may blow it out their unaffected, compassion-less asses.

Survivors can tell their own stories.
Until then, I refuse to be part of making their lives harder.

A sleepy cat
Hux is back!

Refusing to feature something doesn’t mean it disappears from the universe. It just means I chose to curate your experience here.

PDF also doesn’t feature:
Leman Russ Battle Tanks, Orks, Baneblades, CRASSUS ARMOURED ASSAULT TRANSPORTS, heat waves, seagulls, blizzards or pine trees.

But we would believe that the various characters understand and have experienced these things. I don’t need to explicitly show or discuss their occurrence to seed them into this universe.

-B