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John Constantine

Meeting Their Makers: The Strange Phenomenon of Fictional Characters Turning Up in Real Life


Yesterday iconic science fiction author William Gibson (perhaps best known for the acclaimed Neuromancer) tweeted a strange ‘sighting’: the character Milgrim from his recent books Spook Country and Zero History:



While Gibson was referring to the character ‘turning up unannounced’ in his imagination, it’s interesting the way in which the character seems to have moved forward with his life regardless of the author’s own thinking – as if created characters live on independently in that otherworld referred to by Alan Moore as ‘ideaspace‘.

And strangely, authors have reported seeing their fictional creations act in this independent manner not only in their minds, but also ‘in real life’ – especially in the worlds of science fiction and comic books. Alan Moore himself has mentioned in an interview that he once saw one of his creations, the mage John Constantine (from the Hellblazer series), in a sandwich bar in London. “All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine,” Moore revealed. “He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.”

Moore contemplated whether he should go around the corner and double-check if it really was his own character that had walked into the bar, or whether he should just finish his sandwich and leave. “I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I’m not making any claims to anything. I’m just saying that it happened. Strange little story.”

Another person intimately involved with the Hellblazer series, artist Dave McKean, has also recounted a ‘meeting’ with a comic book character: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Death’, from the Sandman series (which McKean created covers for). During the process of travelling to San Diego, someone died on the plane, and as he was waiting to board the plane again McKean says a girl dressed as Death walked off the plane and past him. Though if was travelling to comic-con, this may not be as big a coincidence as it seems…

Influential comics writer, Doug Moench, was shaken by an experience in the 1970s when his writing seemed to jump off the page and invade his life…and his home. Jeffrey Kripal describes what happened in his wonderful book Mutants and Mystics: Science fiction, superhero comics, and the paranormal:

Moench had just finished writing a scene for a Planet of the Apes comic book about a black-hooded gorilla named Brutus. The scene involved Brutus invading a human hero’s home, where he grabbed the man’s mate by the neck and held a gun to her head in order to manipulate the hero. Just as Doug finished this scene, he heard his wife call for him in an odd sort of way from the living room across the house. He got up, walked the length of the house, and entered the living room only to encounter a man in a black hood with one arm around his wife’s neck and the other holding a gun to her head.

“It was exactly what I had written…it was so, so immediate in relation to the writing and such an exact duplicate of what I had written, that it became an instant altered state. The air in the room congealed, became almost like fog, and yet, paradoxically, I could see with greater clarity. I could see the individual threads of his black hood”.

Doug’s emotional response to this series of events was a very understandable and natural one. He became obsessed with the black-hooded intruder for monther, then years. More immediately, he found it very difficult to write, so terrified was he of that eerie connection between what he might write and what might happen: “It really does make you wonder. Are you seeing the future? Are you creating a reality? Should you give up writing forever after something like that happens? I don’t know.”

Interestingly, Gibson has on occasion made reference (both in his books, and on Twitter) to ‘tulpas’ – a concept said to originate in Tibetan mysticism that refers to magical objects or beings that are brought into existence ‘ex nihilo‘, purely by concentration of thought. The terms was made popular in the West through the work of anthropologist Alexandra David-Neel, who wrote in her 1929 book Magic and Mystery in Tibet that she had not only seen them, but had created one herself. “Besides having had few opportunities of seeing [tulpas], my habitual incredulity led me to make experiments for myself,” David-Neel wrote. “My efforts were attended with some success.”

Writers certainly concentrate upon their characters for hours at length. Is it possible that they can will them into existence in some sense? If so, this may not always be a benign event – as with the modern mythos of Slenderman apparently manifesting in not so great ways in real life.

Or is it more likely that once the character is within an author’s head, it is all too easy for them to ‘find’ doppelgangers in the real world that match their description?

Whichever it is, they still make for great stories. Daily Grail contributing editor Cat Vincent is right across this topic, so if you’re interested in learning more, click through some of the links below.


  1. The Shadow

    I've heard on a number of occasions that the new tenants to the house once owned by Walter B. Gibson complained of seeing a spooky shadowy figure, wearing a wide-brimmed black fedora, roaming the rooms of their new home. Gibson was the author of the serialized pulp novels "The Shadow," and to say he was prolific is something of an understatement –he's said to have penned "more than 300 novel-length" Shadow stories according to Wikipedia –that's a lot of brain power devoted to a character, if you ask me!

    It would be interesting to know if Gibson's home became haunted by his own creation even before he left his mortal coil…

    1. Walter Gibson
      I remember reading the story about the “Shadow-tulpa” in THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES so Gibson was still alive at the time. I actually met a truck driver who had lived next door to Gibson in the 70s (how the hell did that come up in casual conversation?)so of course I asked him if he’d encountered Shadow-tulpas but he hadn’t.

    2. Superman / meeting their makers.
      Hey RPJ. There is a scene in one of the documentaries on Grant Morrison where he ran into some guy in a superman costume out in the sticks by a railroad track somewhere when he was working on All Star Superman. Grant was with a friend at the time & they both saw this guy that Grant said was like the ultimate chiselled Superman or something like that? It could have been someone messing with him but its a cool tale. I forget which doc it was in now. I have also read the one about Alan Moore & John Constantine too. Freaky shit or someone having a laugh? Its still cool though. Have a sound weekend buddy. ;)Nice one Vato & adios amoeba. On another note I’m ashamed to say I have not yet watched Stranger Things. When things get hyped I sometimes refrain from watching just in case they end up a load of s**t but I’m gonna have to binge watch the whole thing now. Same with the OA. Cheers big ears. 😉

    3. Meeting their makers.
      There is also the one about how Morrison had been writing the character King Mob as an extension of himself where he wrote a scene of King being tortured and getting an infection & a busted lung & then Grant himself ended up in hospital with a busted lung & his face being eaten away by a flesh eating bacteria just like in the story. I saw that in one of the same documentaries.True or not it makes for a good read. Tulpas left right & centre. Weird shit. Makes you think though eh? Cheers guys & enjoy the weekend.

  2. An Unlikely Prophet
    To this list must be added Alvin Schwartz’s An Unlikely Prophet:

    Schwartz used to write the Superman newspaper comic strip back in the ’50s, and he claims to have encountered Superman as a tulpa. Here’s a snippet from the book description:

    “Superman, as it turns out, is also a tulpa, a being created by thought that takes on a life of its own and, in Mr. Schwartz’s words, is an archetype expressing the sense of nonlocality that is always present in the back of our minds–that capacity to be everywhere instantly. Superman is one of the specific forms that embodies our reality when we’re at our highest point, when we’re truly impermeable, indestructible, totally concentrated, and living entirely in the now, a condition each of us actually attains from time to time.”

    I first heard about this book when Alan Moore mentioned it in an interview.

  3. Milgrim
    “Not only do beings and things have spirits that in turn take the forms of beings and things, but deeds, words,thoughts, and feelings also have spirits of their own. Thus it may happen that the soul of a beautiful deed may assume the form of an angel.”

    – Sheikh Badruddin

  4. Occult thought forms
    I’ve read a lot about occult thought forms ‘tulpas’.
    It’s pretty well known standard practice in occult and spiritual development.

    If you apply enough focus and effort, it will materialise. This is a good page to get you started :

    More interestingly in the astral plane, thoughts can be manifested instantly.
    Even more interestingly is that fictional worlds and characters with enough focus do exist for “real” in alternative realities you can actually visit.

    Just think all those fictional worlds and characters you can visit the astral.

  5. Meeting their makers.
    Great article Greg. Really interesting stuff. I had heard of the bit with Alan Moore & John Constantine. I probably read it here on the mighty Daily Grail? Stay safe man & have a sound weekend. Cheers big ears. 😉

  6. These concepts are best handled in Story, yet even in Story people are uncomfortable with the concept.

    Track down a copy of King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald.

    You will only find the book used, in mass market. I finally bought a copy on Kindle because the mass market pages were becoming too foxed to read, on both copies I have. What’s odd, is the book is no longer available in Kindle, yet I just got it a few years ago.

    In the book, instead of “tulpa” he uses “phagus”. They are the ancient forms stored in the “mythoconscious” the ancient myth memory. The ancient characters can be called forth, but they will appear in a modern form.

    – You have a blind harper appear in the 19th Century, then reappear in the 20th as a Punk Rocker, still blind.

    – There are two phagus that try to control the mythlines to protect the young girl from forces. They complete their task, vanish back into the mythoconscious, but then reappear in later incarnations.

    Read the book a few times to capture events, and you will see familiar themes that describe things like Slenderman.


    Wiki – Philip experiment

    and the related pages for the movies:

    Wiki – The Apparition

    Wiki – The Quiet Ones (2014 film)

    Then I need to point out:

    Wiki – Ex nihilo

    That means “out of nothing”. That’s incorrect, you can’t get something from Nothing. Nothing comes from something.

    These entities are created from the mythoconscious, shaping what is already there into a new form.

    I made a post years ago in the comments:

    “Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, Taoists, Zen Buddhists, Tantric meditators, and mystics everywhere do not think of the Dreaming world as an ‘un’-conscious. For these peoples, the sentient Dreaming world is the basic reality. Though marginalized and invisible to mainstream cultures today, Dreamtime has been the essential reality for people from the beginning of time.”

    ~ Arnold Mindell

    I want to point out something that occurred to me about the quote.

    Think of the Dreamtime as the body of a “drum” and with reality as the skin of the drum.

    – It takes the skin stretched tight to have a sound.

    – It takes the body of the drum to shape the sound.

    One without the other will not sound as rich.

    – It takes someone drumming the skin to make the sound, and to hear it.

    You have to have the Dreamer, and Reality stretched tight, to fill the Dreamtime with the Dream. Plus, there are many drums and many Dreamers.

    The more I let the metaphor sink in, the more I can see:

    That’s why reality is rigid, absolute, until it’s not. That’s why there are built in limits, structures, governors, censors, to keep reality hard, until it’s not. Then it changes all at once, or slowly, or chaotically, into a new hard, absolute, reality. Those people who are still “dancing to a different drummer” are out of step with the new reality.

    The thing is, that you can have many drums intermeshed with different people dancing to different drummers, who see the “Other” in their neighbors. Each side thinks that the “Other” is the one that moves out of step. HA!

    So you have:

    The drumhead is the Real, stretched tight over the drum body which is Imaginal Space. Within that drum body of Imaginal Space is were the mythoconscious resides. The entities there require us to pay attention to them. Attention is like money, you have limited amounts to pay, and the entities will do things to make you pay your attention to them.

    Thus Slenderman, or the Clowns appearing everywhere, etc…, all to attract our attention.

    Yikes! Like I said, These concepts are best handled in Story. I need to finish my WIP and publish the books. HA!

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