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Sunday, 24 December 2006

A few links to strike fear into your very soul...

It's downtime, so time to see what's out there in web land... And my goodness, there's some strange stuff. Even stranger than the last time I looked.

First, one for PC fans, especially those with a professed hatred of all things Apple (which doesn't include me). Here's a wonderful comparison of the Apple Ipod vs the humble tape cassette (people over 30 will remember these, there's more than you ever wanted to know here at www.tapedeck.org). Which is better? Daniel Turek, while perhaps a Mac user himself judging from his web page address, has no doubt...




Now then. We all know that at some point over Christmas you will encounter a young child with a) a drum b) a tin whistle c) a Moog synthesiser. (Well, okay, you probably won't encounter the latter but just imagine the horror...). Simply check out this site and respond with these Air Raid Siren sounds: www.airraidsirens.com. No, really. It's almost as crazy as the Tape Deck site I mentioned above. I say almost.)

Of course, you will have to consider that ageing relatives may be thrown into blind panic by some of these sounds, suffer heart attacks as they are awoken from post Christmas dinner stupor thinking they are back in the Second World War.

We must be careful out on the Interweb. There are many strange things you can find when you have time off from the usual daily grind. Dangerous things that will make you question your own sanity far more quickly than reading the collected works of M. R. James, or perhaps the thought of albums like this ever being made...

No, I speak of course of sites such as Pet Food Labels. Beware such sites, they are evil incarnate. Still, could you live without knowing that canned dog food first appeared in the 1910s? I thought not.

Have a great Christmas everyone!




Saturday, 23 December 2006

Christmas Decorations

I've had a quite a few e-cards this year from a variety of creators, and since printing them out rather defeats one of the objects of an e-card -- to save paper -- I thought I'd post some of them here instead...



Classic SF-inspired festive wishes worthy of any of SF magazine cover, courtesy of sms



This jolly image courtesy of Beri in Slovenia


A cheery Christmas scene from 2000ADs brilliant Rufus Dayglo



Wacky alien good wishes from writer-artist Jon Charles



... and a more traditional but elegantly created greeting from startrek.com and Star Trek Magazine artist David Reddick, one of my favourites.

I've had a few more, but Blogger seems to be acting oddly, so they'll have to keep...


Friday, 22 December 2006

Really Heavy Greatcoat: News Blues


Nick Miller has kindly delivered a greatcoat for the end of the year, in the absence of any new scripts from me: it's inspired by a Bob Dylan song some of you may be familiar with. Enjoy!

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Happy Christmas, All!



... and what could be more appropriate to illustrate this festive season than this festive LP image, as a small tribute to the genius of Hanna Barbera? Check out this wonderful blog recommended by the First Tiger of Comics, Richard Starkings, for more Christmas magic.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Monday, 18 December 2006

Comixpedia

In amongst posts about Comics International being sold - expect a press release very soon -- I've also just been in touch with Sean Michael Wilson over at Boychild Productions and via his fab comics site, discovered Comixpedia, which includes a magazine about online comics and describes itself as "a community-edited site devoted to complete coverage of all things webcomic-related." Another site with a growing directory of web comics to sift through...

I've been busy where I can adding a few new features to the downthetubes main site over the weekend, including a couple of reviews by Jeremy Briggs on the 2007 Commando calendars and Alison Bechdel's controversial Fun Home graphic novel by Robyn Talbot.

The recent addition of Mike Gent's feature on Roy of the Rovers has also drawn some good traffic. If anyone fancies writing similar pieces for the site on other characters, please get in touch

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

The Return of the Shadow

Digital Spy has picked up on a Hollywood Reporter item that Sam (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) Raimi is to produce a new big screen adaptation of The Shadow after Columbia Pictures bought the rights to the heroic character. He apparently won't direct this latest version featuring the adventures of the 1930s crimefighter, who has the power to cloud the minds of his adversaries.

Created by Walter B Gibson, the Shadow originated as a CBS radio show in 1931 and featured in over 300 pulp magazine stories, according to the Shadow in Review web site. I quite liked the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin (it was directed by Russell Highlander Mulcahy and had plenty of visual panache) but I was in a minority - the film bombed at the US box office, taking just over $32 million, which didn't recoup the estimated $40 million budget.

I'm sure that after Peter Jackson's King Kong Hollywood execs will recognise it's possible to set a film in the era in which the source material was created and still provide a relevance for the modern audience (just as the BBC's underestimated Robin Hood series is doing).

Digging around, I've come across some great web sites devoted to the character, as well as the inevitable Wikipedia entry. The Shadow Sanctum (www.shadowsanctum.net) offers more information on the plans for the new movie and seems to offer a good range of background reference and new interpretations on the character from his many fans.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Roger Langridge does Marvel


On a roll with his latest strip for Doctor Who Magazine this month -- Rose Tyler's last appearance in the comic pages of the title -- ace cartoonist Roger Langridge has a new strip for Marvel, featured in its entirety on the Newsarama comics news site. “How Fin Fang Foom Saved Christmas” apears in Marvel Holiday Special #1 and is a gem of a story, as you'd expect from this UK-based New Zealander.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

DRM free e-comics for sale

Couple of interesting links sourced via BoingBoing: Pullbox Online (www.pullboxonline.com) is a new site selling downloadable comics, like the print version of 'Family Guy'. Unusually, instead of offering a Digitally Rights Managed ebook format, they're supporting the CBR format, and PDF. $0.99 a pop.

The No Sheep blog offers some interesting but probably controversial points on CBR and how the comics industry shouldn't worry about it here and here, arguing comics should take the plunge and go digital, which some publishers are already doing.

Slave Labor Graphics, publisher of very cool indy comics for example, has made PDF and CBZ versions available on their site for several months now. Issues are $0.89 or less. On the site are the first three collections of Andi Watson's "Skeleton Key" (a total of 23 issues) for just $5. Also look for two series, 'Whistles' and 'Byron,' being published exclusively in digital downloadable format.

I like CBR -- I use Comic Book Lover for Mac to view the format, which is regularly being tweaked and improved. There's a review of it here on Mac360.

CBR is still in its infancy. Over at the Mutant Liberation Front there's some interesting techie stuff about extending the format to make it even more open source. And make CBRs more search-friendly. I don't pretend to understand it for a moment, but it's worth a look if you're so inclined.

Mobile Comics



I'm experimenting with formats for mobile comics again. Issues continue to be: size (480 x 480 is pretty much a good standard to start with, but it won't work on all models of phone), font sizes and the obvious issue -- is this comics or just simple animation?

One of the best things about reading a comic or book is that the reader controls the speed at which they read it. With the sample above (I think you may have to click on it to view the animation), they don't have that option. As the creator, I've set the timings, transitions etc.

One option is to deliver the comics via WAP, where readers would move from frame to frame at their own speed. I'm not convinced that the java route -- using a java program to run the comics -- is an option (although it has been used by others) simply because unless that is pre-installed on your mobile, users won't bother to download it (unless it's very easy to do).

Lots of questions and thoughts buzzing around but no hard answers!

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Go West


Quick plug, especially as I have known artist Tim Keable's work for years, since back in my days of editing Doctor Who Magazine, and West: Texas Drama sounds like a gem of an indie title well worth tracking down...

  • Texas, 1887. West dislikes Texas, where everything always seems to be more complicated than it ought to be. While transporting a coffin to the backwater town of Big Creek, West finds himself the solution to someone else's problem. If, that is, he can manage to stay alive long enough to realise what that problem seems to be...

The creation of Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable, West: Texas Drama costs £2 and is also available in a signed and numbered Limited Edition of 25, with an alternate, full colour cover, priced at £3.

Cover art of both these comics, as well as a Paypal store, can be found at www.angrycandy.co.uk

Birmingham International Comics Show - more details online

The full events program and floorplans for the First Birmingham International Comics Show are now available online at: www.thecomicsshow.co.uk

Monday, 4 December 2006

New Dogbreath on sale soon

Available to pre-order from The FQP Shop, Dogbreath #15 is 48 pages of UK indie comics action featuring strips and features by some of the finest talent in the small press.

Also featuring contributions from Nigel Dobbyn and Boo Cook, Dogbreath #15 is surely a must have for fans of Strontium Dog... and as if the above isn't enough, the whole thing comes wrapped in a new cover by the soon-to-be-legendary Rufus Dayglo!

Beer Run Goes Bad

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Comic Cuts no laughing matter

I thought that unlike some British newspapers, US papers gave comic strips quite a good deal, but it appears, sadly, it just ain't true. Economics and ignorant editorial decisions (like the ones behind the Guardian's idiot-but-quickly-reversed decision to drop Doonesbury on going 'Berliner') are threatening many of them, as an article syndicated from the Los Angeles Times by Joshua Fruhlinger, webmaster of ComicsCurmudgeon.com reveals.

(ComicsCurmudgeon.com regularly analyzes, deconstructs and mocks comic strips, a site Fruhlinger thought would merely entertain my close and indulgent friends, it now receives about 13,000 visitors and 200 reader comments every day).

Fruhlinger says that despite comic fans' enthusiasm for their favourite strips, "the only place you won't find this kind of enthusiasm is in most newspaper comics pages themselves.

"Rather than nurturing a section of the paper that has a built-in and long-lived fan base, most papers across the country continue to dishearten fans by cramming fewer strips into ever-shrinking spaces," he reveals. "Many comics aficionados have begun to sour on the whole newsprint experience."

Papers such as the Houston Chronicle in Texas are, it seems, an increasing rarity. The Chronicle offers some 103 strips online (although 66 appear in the print edition) and its web site is a haven for comics fans and a justified source of pride for the paper. "If we like a strip, we keep it, and I hope we continue doing that," Mike Read, the Chronicle's web operations and development editor told Fruhlinger.

Fruhlinger also makes the interesting point that many cartoonists are increasingly discovering a more reliable way of reaching their fans is via the internet. This isn't new to comics fans, online comics are huge, but in terms of monetizing their creations Doonesbury's web site is obviously a clear example of some success. I'm sure anyone reading this will have their own online favs, be they subscription-only, such as Michael Jantze's brilliant The Norm - once a syndicated strip it can now only be read on the Web - or Britain's very own and totally free and totally wonderful Beaver and Steve.

But there's also the vaild comment that comics are a significant and under-appreciated part of a mix that offers continued reader loyalty to print editions of newspapers in the 'Internet Age' -- and reader outcry when they disappear from a paper surely proves this. Fruhlinger argues that before the print news medium gives up on new readers, maybe it's time to "double down on the comics, to make the funny papers a selling point again. Give the comics an extra page. Move the funnies out of the entertainment-section ghetto and into the A section or Sports.

"Better yet," he opines, "run the daily strips in a stand-alone insert — not just Sundays. Get the advertising staff to start selling against the comics section (why should TV be getting all the ads for sugary cereals and action figures?). Do something, do anything, to make the funny pages interesting."

Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic could also learn from what cartoonists and the syndicates are doing online with comics: offering collections and tie-in merchandise, even high quality prints of strips and one frame cartoons, just as papers offer discounts on books and other media they review via their dedicated shops.

Whatever the future of comics, I'm still of the opinion that it's still some years before the Internet, mobile and other future delivery methods totally supplant the tactile pleasure of reading something on paper.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

One for anyone over 30...


I received this some time ago and thought it worth re-posting on this blog. It's a variation on past emails on this subject, but always worth reminding ourselves, especially when reading the Guardian. The illo, right is by printmeister over at b3ta , their entry into a competition about how far a nanny state could go

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's !!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.

• They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

• Then after that trauma, our cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

• We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets

• Let's not even bother mentioning the risks we took hitchhiking.

• As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

• Riding in the back of a truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

• We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle.

• We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.

• We ate ccakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because...

WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! (yes, even comics readers...)

• We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the street lights came on.

• No one was able to reach us all day. And we were OK.

• We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem .

• We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on satellite or cable, no DVDs, no surround sound, no mobiles, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms... we had friends, and we went outside and found them!

• We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits as a result of these accidents .

• We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

• We were given cap guns for our tenth birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

• We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

• The local football team had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't have to "learn to deal with disappointment". Imagine that!!

• The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned learned how to deal with it all.

And YOU are one of them!

CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good; and while you're at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.

Hmmm... all the above sort of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

PS: The big type is because your eyes might be shot at your age.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Christmas Giving


Stung by news from the Congo's Virunga National Park on the depressing fate of hippos being hunted by poachers, I had a hunt around on the Net and located a web site which enables donations to WildLifeDirect (www.wildlifedirect.org), an organisation really on the front line in the fight against the people who are devastating the animal population. (Pictured above: the rangers at work).

BBC News reported earlier this week that if the poaching continues at the same rate as now all the hippo in Virunga will be gone in months. It's a story they have been covering for months but the international community seems to be doing little about it. Maybe there's not enough oil to worry about.

To learn more about Congo Rangers and crisis being encountered in Virunga National Park , visit this blog: www.wildlifedirect.org/congo-rangers

You can also donate towards Virunga Widows' Fund (www.virungafund.org). This is a fund for supporting the widows of Congo Rangers who have been killed during active service.

The Rangers are literally risking their lives to try and save wildlife. Thanking them for their efforts with a donation strikes me as a better way to spend money at Christmas.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

2D Artist and Web Comic Tips

Couple of quick links:

Anyone interested in creating comics for web (or perhaps mobile) might be interested in this feature by Scott "Understanding Comics" McCloud: www.scottmccloud.com/makingcomics/five_half/00.html. Some useful tips and tricks for getting the best out of online presentation of comics.

Comics creator Terry Hooper just sent me this link to a downloadable PDF magazine, 2D Artist, which also looks interesting: www.2dartistmag.com

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Farewell to Fluff

He may not have been as influential as John Peel, but I was sorry to hear that DJ Alan Freeman (no relation) has died at 79. It was Freeman - and school friend Tony Corden - who introduced me to Yes and, consequently, those wonderful Roger Dean covers that you sometimes felt were the best thing about some prog rock.

Alan "Fluff" Freeman had a distinctive presenting style later lampooned by Harry Enfield, and both his Radio 1 Rock Show and Mary Nightingale's Sunday afternoon show on the same station hold great memories.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Taking on modern technology

You know, for someone who has been the subject of every "miserable failure" search on Google since 2003, I almost feel sorry for George W. Bush after his latest admission to not being that technologically savvy -- check out this interview with him about his use of Google maps. But then again, this is George we're talking about.

Time was, I thought it was quite fun to see the President of the US featured in a Marvel Comic (several appeared in Fantastic Four as well as the Beatles, I recall), but not these days.

HammerWeb Lives Again!

The official Hammer Films web site which I was involved in re-designing some years back is starting to be updated after a long period of hibernation -- welcome news for Hammer Film fans. In the last few days though, it's moved most of its activities over to pages on MySpace.

The company also seems to be getting a bit more proactive in promoting its catalogue and merchandise. Just in case you missed it, Hammer's officially licensed HammerShop
will have a stall at Memorabilia this weeend at the NEC (Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th November 2006) - "a true celebration of the popular culture genre".

The company says its a chance to see and purchase the new Hammer lines, as well as chat with fans and to meet the stars of tv and film (the guest lineup is on the Memorabilia website).

The official Hammer Films Online Shop will be bringing to Memorabilia the most extensive choice of Hammer Horror movies on DVDs as individual titles or in boxsets.On display will be some fantastic never before seen T-shirts such as
the best-selling Dracula - Taste the Blood, Drink a Pint of Blood a Day! and Vampress the bride of Dracula.

There will also be a wide range of collectables such as Stamps and Film Cells on sale. "And for the man who thinks he has everything," says Hammerweb's webmaster, "well think again - as we have some fabulous gifts designed by Gresham Blake of Brighton, Tailor to the Stars with an amazing selection of silver plated cufflinks, designer cloaks and silk ties."

The Hammerweb Shop is at tand H27-H29 at the fair. Book your tickets online at: boxoffice.necgroup.co.uk/Series/-2072931251.html

Monday, 20 November 2006

See this band at your peril...

Compering the local Spotlight Club's Gong Night -- 18 excellent contestants offering performances mix of stand up, poetry and song in a bid to win a £50 first prize -- was great fun on Friday night, but I have to admit complete bafflement at the decision to round the night off with a performance from Cogna, an avant-garde duo that left me completely cold and the room virtually empty within about 30 minutes - no mean feat considering how crowded it was.

Perhaps as a warning to others, some kind soul has posted a segment of one of their earlier gigs on MySpace. I noticed a couple of people mobcasting this latest performance, so you might find that on the web at some point, too. There are a number of videos of them on YouTube. (The band also has its own web site and happily informs visitors the filmed gig above was described by one local reviewer as "weird s***", which they took as a compliment).

Nygel Harriot won the £50, a man with huge comic talent (he's written jokes for Ken Dodd in the past, among other scripting work).

Yes, Lancaster is oozing talent of all kinds these days, and not just comics artists like Paul Harrison Davis and Ant Mercer. But not, I feel, from every quarter...

(I'm reliably informed by cartoonist Nick Miller that although Cogna may not be everyone's cup of tea, they do not deserve the description of "possibly Lancaster's worst band ever". That moniker surely belogs to a a bunch of University students calling themselves Rhino back in the 1990s.

"They always turned up at their gigs so drunk they were incapable of playing their instruments, or doing much more than giggling and falling about," Nick recalls. "People were paying good money to see this. Anyway, they managed to do a couple of gigs and then disappeared, by popular request. Our Off the Beat reviewer covered what turned out to be their last gig, and we published the review under the title RHINO PLASTERED.

"So far as I know, no demo tapes of this band exist, anywhere. Thank God. If Myspace had existed back in those days, no doubt they would have made a tape of themselves throwing up (it would have been slightly more musical)..."

Keeping comics in newspapers

Interesting piece in The Baltimore Sun over the weekend on the future of newspapers -- well, US newspapers, although the issues they're facing as new media gains in popularity across all age bands is affecting all print media.

Howard Weaver, the head of news for the McClatchy chain -- which bought the Knight Ridder chain of US newspapers and then sold off about half of them -- argues "There will be lots of audio and video" on future newspaper sites. "It should not be the mirror image of the newspaper. Newspaper content is a tremendous starting place, but it is only a starting place."

There's a clear recognition of the way the Internet is developing 'niche' audiences in the article, and recognizing that the newspaper audience of the future will be a specialized one means giving up the department-store, something-for-everyone approach. I think that's possibly true, and as an editor of various 'niche' magazines down the years, if you can get the economics right, then you're on a winner.

As part of that 'niche' marketing Peter M. Zollman, a former journalist, now a newspaper industry consultant, says he would keep the comics -- "You can't blow up your entire core audience" -- but, for instance, jettison stock tables as up-to-the-minute prices are available on the Web.

This is one of those rare occasions where comics have been recognised as a piece of 'unique content' that helps retain readers that I've read in a while, and it's a welcome argument on these pages...

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Wikipedia Illustrated

Here's a good one. Greg Williams, a designer and illustrator for The Tampa Tribune in Florida has begun providing comic-styled versions of Wikipedia articles. His contributions to the Doctor Seuss entry spark it up nicely, but I enjoyed his "pet skunk" illustration immensely!

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Marvelman Ownership issues resurface

Steve Holland has reported over on Bear Alley on an interview by Alan Moore questioning the original relaunch of Marvelman in the 1980s.

Steve's news item outlines the current debacle very well, so go and have a look for yourselves: http://bearalley.blogspot.com.

Spring Heeled Jack

Writer and artist David Hitchcock has released a hardback edition of his Eagle Award winning series Springheeled Jack. The Victorian gothic fantasy series received much high praise from readers and comic professionals in its initial three issue run and this book titled 'Strange Visitor' collects these issues plus the hard to find 'The Last Chapter' previously only available to lucky fans at Bristol's Comic Convention in 2005. The book also showcases many of David's sketches on the series and a tantilizing glimpse into the production of the artwork.

Limited to just 500 copies the standard book can be bought for just £10 (including postage and packaging) but as usual with David's comic work he is offering a range of special offers on this new collection. The first 20 orders will receive a fantastic original drawing with the book! Plus for £13 you can order one of eighty copies that will be numbered and signed by David and will include a limited tipped in plate illustration. For orders and availability on the limited editions you can contact David directly by e-mail at black_boar1@yahoo.com or by sending a cheque made payable to David Hitchcock to SHJ, Gunhills Farm, Gunhills Lane, Windley, Derbyshire DE56 2LR. To see more of David's work check out his website at www.blackboar.co.uk

All Change!

Over on the main site, I've just uploaded a cleaner 'new look' which affects all my pages. Let me know what you think, and if it's causing an display issues. Thanks!

Some pages are still in the old design but will be updated shortly.I'm aware of some issues where ads are appearing over images on the strip pages -- if anyone can advise how to correct this I'd be very grateful. I'm just starting out with CSS style sheets...

Westcity Link

You know, sometimes it's worth actually checking some of the ads Google's putting on your site because some of them are gems. Case in point is the "Science Fiction Info" line ad that was on here this mroning, wich links to an incredible archive of (watermarked) covers of SF magazines from the pulp era onwards at www.westcity.org.uk. Another wonderful nostalgia trip.

Westcity Link

You know, sometimes it's worth actually checking some of the ads Google's putting on your site because some of them are gems. Case in point is the "Science Fiction Info" line ad that was on here this mroning, wich links to an incredible archive of (watermarked) covers of SF magazines from the pulp era onwards at www.westcity.org.uk. Another wonderful nostalgia trip.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Anti Smoking fun

Talk of banning smoking completely in West Lancashire council offices -- no more fag breaks etc. -- prompted memories of anti-smoking campaigns in 1960s comics, TV21 Anti Smoking Imageand the image here from TV21 #21 coincidentally arrived in my mailbox this morning. (Click here for the full strip)

Of course it would be difficult to run such a campaign now. I don't think you can even feature smoking in comics in the UK unless it's an "adult" comic -- although that doesn't explain how Simpsons Comics get away with it...

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Calvin and Hobbes spoof

The wonders of dabble and youtube turned up this segment from the US comedy show Robot Chicken. I love Calvin and Hobbes, but this is very funny... but wasn't Calvin taller in the strip?


Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Tenacious D storm downthetubes

Over on the official web site for the new Tenacious D movie (Titan Books has some tie-in books on the way), there's an option to "overhaul" a "lame" web site, using some fun flash screengrabbing and animation. Clever, with quite a few different "skins" to choose from.

Here's what the boys did to downthetubes.net...

More manga from Harrison Davies?

Bumped into artist Paul Harrison Davies yesterday, looking a bit knackered from the recent happy birth of his daughter but still bubbling at reaction to his fab strip in Constable and Robinson's recently-published Mammoth Book of Best New Manga, which was edited by Ilya and also includes strips from Michiru Morikawa, winner of the Grand Prize of the International Manga and Anime Festival, Selina Dean and Asia Alfasi, as well as established names such as Andi Watson and Craig Conlan.

He tells me reaction and sales on this excellent collection have been good enough to result in discussions of a follow up title, format yet to be decided. Meanwhile, he's working on some new material which should surface on his blog sometime soon... Meanwhile head over there and check out his cool spot illos.

Hollywoodland

Heading for UK cinemas 24 November is Hollywoodland, which centres on the mysterious death of George Reeve, the man who played Superman. The trailer looks slick (but as others have pointed out, does it give too much away?)

Ben Affleck, who has a couple of bad years in the entertainment press, won an award for Best Actor for his role as George Reeves in the film at this year's Venice Film Festival. Good news for a man known for his love of SF and comics (he's huge Star Trek fan, so maybe now his name will start getting thrown into the rumour ring when it comes to the new movie...)

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Special

Okay, this one passed me by. I need to read more dreamwatch (unashamed plug). There's a new film bearing down on us called Special, centring on Les Franken (played by Michael Rapaport), who leads a painfully unremarkable life as a metermaid until he enrolls in a drug study for an experimental anti-depressant.

An unexpected side effect of the drug convinces Les he is developing special powers and must quit his job to answer his new calling in life... as a superhero.

The tag is: "A very select group of people in life are truly gifted. Special is a movie about everyone else."


I'm sure this is something everyone's been aware of for ages, but the trailer certainly indicates this could be great fun...

The Host

Anyone who's feeling intrigued by the new monster movie The Host might find the official Korean web site interesting (www.thehost.co.kr).

Entertaining use of Flash... make sure you allow pop-ups on the site.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Cat Tracking into parallel dimensions

It's a well known fact that many SF and comics writers own cats. Don't ask me why, it's just one of those weird rules of the universe.

Of course many freelancers work from home, but even they must sometimes wonder where their cat has disappeared to. Into Schrodinger's box? A parallel dimension? Or simply to scrounge food off the little old lady two streets away and then work its way back to your house employing the "Six Dinners Sid" method of coming home?

Well, tough luck, cats -- it seems you're close to having their lives monitored just the way we are through CCTV, money trails, RFID chips and your wild bretheren are pursued across the African plains for Big Cat Diary. The technology for GSM tracking is getting smaller by the day.

This German company has info on the latest GSM tags that could be used to monitor your moggy -- but at 110g, it's still too heavy for the domestic feline and you can be sure they'll lose the thing about five minutes after leaving your house. The company doesn't sell the things, but they reckon that by next year a smaller, lighter and more robust version will be on the market.

But do you really want to know where cats go?

Friday, 3 November 2006

Is The Eagle a British icon?

Having just received a "Media Advisory" from icons.org.uk celebrating Guy Fawkes' nomination as a national British icon, I thought I'd check to see who else was up for this "celebration of British culture", backed by Culture Online, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Bad news, folks, The Eagle is currently not considered an icon by those who've voted on some 700 plus nominations so far -- although Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes are, and have already earned themselves "Iconic" status.

If you don't agree with the current vote - apparently some one million votes have been cast for various potential icons since January -- why not nip over to the Eagle's nomination page and vote for it?

Also up for nomination are Richmal Crompton's "Just William", John Peel's radio Show, car boot sales, "The Saint", The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Daleks, Andy Capp, glove puppet hero Sooty, Roy of the Rovers, Biggles, jam roly pudding, Oliver Postgate's children's programmes - yes, the Clangers! -, Basil Brush, the Tufty Club (I've still got my badge), Paddington Bear, Mods and Rockers, Hawkwind, the Goon Show, James Bond, the three-pin plug, real ale, Rupert the Bear, Camden Market, Wallace & Gromit, Winnie the Pooh, Doctor Who -- and knotted handkerchiefs on the beach.

No Jeff Hawke, Judge Dredd or Dan Dare himself yet, but the nominations are glorious!

Thursday, 2 November 2006

More from Moores

Read Yourself Raw reports that Alan Moore discusses the new League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen book The Black Dossier at Wizard www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/wizard/002034679.cfm

Talking of Moores, folk may enjoy Leah Moore's scathing review of their hotel accommodation in Lancaster, posted on Virtual-Lancaster.

I'm happy to say (although not happy for Leah and John Reppion, obviously, they could have had a better time staying at Fawlty Towers) that no-one else who stayed at other Lancaster guest houses had such problems.

The poor experience thankfully hasn't put Leah or John Reppion off Lancaster, thank goodness. "On the contrary we were totally charmed by Lancaster and felt right at home there from the minute we set foot, weirdly enough," she told me, "as we always bemoan feeling like aliens wherever we go for conventions."

Leah and John's Albion is heading for trade paperback soon and having now had the chance to read the entire run -- the trade paperback won't include Dave Gibbons' covers, apparently -- I have to say i really enjoyed it. Lots of visual gags and taken as an "opening act" of a relanch for the IPC characters, it works very well. It's just a shame the book ran late, which must have affected sales.

John says Wildstorm are just waiting to see what the TPB sales are like before committing to more of the Albion saga. Fingers crossed.

(Dave Gibbons told me a while back that sales weren't high enough on Thunderbolt Jaxon to justify further books, but the door isn't closed on him poropsing new books featuring IPC characters -- when he gets time!)

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Astrapets

I'll put something up on the main site later, but just received two fab books from artist Bambos Georgiou, the first of his Astrapets collection.

Aimed at all ages, both The Great Space Chase and Dangerous Games are great fun: I particularly like the Betelgusian Beatniks and the fact that the Astrapets can't find anything for humans to do.

Charming, witty and wonderfully drawn, check out Bambos' site at www.astrapets.com... You can buy both books from www.smalllzone.co.uk

Monday, 30 October 2006

Lancaster Comics Festival – Thanks

I'd just like to thank all the small press creators -- Redeye, Omnivistascope, Futurequake, the Comic Creators Guild, Soaring Penguin and many others -- and professional comics creators – including Bryan Talbot, John Ridgway (pictured), Leah Moore, John Reppion, Adrian Salmon, Tim Perkins, Graeme Neil "Atrocious Cold" Reid and Dave Windett – for braving some really atrocious weather and coming to Lancaster for its first modern comics festival on Saturday.

It rained almost all day. (And I mean really rained to the point you were thinking it was good to be on a hill). The venue was miles from the nearest pub. No-one knew if the event would be a success but organiser Ant Mercer worked his socks off promoting the thing in the local press and on local radio.

Since we were selling the final issue of Eagle Flies Again at the event and sold under ten copies (special thanks to Paul Scott of Omnivistascope/Solar Wind for boosting the coffers, I feel really bad about charging him now), I imagine some small press people might be in a similar boat in terms of weighing the costs versus income (although I gather some covered their their costs, which is also great news).

But despite the weather and, perhaps, financial losses on the day, I think the event was a success from the point of view of further raising the profile of British comics, and I hope Ant will be running another one next year.

For me, the whole point of the Lancaster Comics Festival was that it offered a chance to open up the world of comics creation to a new audience. An audience that would never perhaps make it to a comics event in London, Brighton or Bristol.

Many people came to the event – I'm sure Ant can provide some firm numbers – people who had never been to a comics event before but braved the weather any way -- and yes, I include the woman with the ferret. For that alone, it was a success.

The smiles on the faces of the kids taking part in the comics jam more than made up for the terrible weather.

As for creator revelry both before and after the event (although I missed the "after", never have a stall right next to an artist with an "atrocious cold…" :) ) – well, that was just a bonus.

Thanks to everyone who came; everyone who took part; and Ant for getting the thing together.

As he and I discussed several times, this was a first Comics Festival for Lancaster (although I ran a comics event in Lancaster back in 1994 as part of its literature festival, for the most part, the numbers were nowhere near what was achieved on Saturday).

There were things that could have gone better; there were things that went better than expected. Overall, for me, it was a great day.

Let's call it a start, and move ever upwards from here…

John Freeman
Eagle Flies Again #14 – Final Issue – Is on sale now via PayPal
UK and Eire Orders: tinyurl.com/w42l5
Non UK and Eire Orders: tinyurl.com/yybxro

Friday, 27 October 2006

All set for the festival...

Lancaster's Ashton Memorial will be filled with comics fans tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to the event.

Local artist Ant Mercer has done a top job of PRing the thing, so I hope all his hard work pays off in terms of punters. That said, there's enough small press people coming to more than make it a great day, we've got the final issue of Eagle Flies Again on sale and I'm sure I'll have chance to read the latest Spaceship Away, the spooky Misty Comic tribute I got in the post earlier this week, and catch up with some friends. Fab!

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Pingu for Number One!

While I was working at Marvel UK, Paul Neary once foolishly confessed admiration for the animation Pingu. Once the laughter had died away he made me watch the show with a view to a potential pitch for a comic and for this reason, this wonderful animated show - perhaps the best-known Swiss export after clocks and chocolate - always strikes a chord when I read some news about it.

Now, Pingu is making a bid for Christmas Number One chart success with a new single, 7-11, from indie-disco group Eskimo Dance. It was produced by Hot Animation for children's entertainment producers Hit Entertainment, who now own UK rights to Pingu - as well as owning Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends and Fireman Sam - and made 52 new episodes of the five-minute show in 2004, currently airing on kids channel CBeebies.

Digital Spy reports the promo has already become one of the most downloaded videos on YouTube racking up 27,000 views in less than a week.

So, without further ado, let me just say: Pingu Rocks!!

Monday, 23 October 2006

Mistaken Identity

Working on the virtual-lancaster.net web site as now only sometimes I do, just occasionally we get information from people in one of America's Lancasters rather than Lancaster, England.


Case in point is a very courteous note we had from the band Ivy Hill wanting to know our press deadlines top promote a new tour in Massachusetts USA, but hey, I'm not going to hold it aginst them because I'd probably never heard of them, ever, otherwise (well, unless they make it big and I wish them luck with that) and I really like what I hear on their official web site - a powerful compilation of r&b, funk, jazz, pop, blues and reggae.


Well worth checking out, in my limited musical opinion...

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Eagle Flies Again 14


All being well, printers permitting, Eagle Flies Again #14 is on course to be on sale at this weekend's Lancaster Comics Festival.

Wrapped in a smashing Scream!-inspired cover by Graeme Neil Reid, the 36-page final issue includes an all-time British Comics Characters top ten, with suggestions from Ricard Starkings, Tim Perkins, Hunt Emerson and others; a print version of the John Wagner interview which recently ran on the FPI web blog; plus a host of features on Scream, Warlord, girls in boys comics, a Dan Bartton strip drawn by Andrew Chiu, and more.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Dog Years

Ever wonder what your dog is thinking? Get an insider's view with this film at www.atomfilms.com/af/content/dog_years. Very droll and one for anyone who's ever owned or known a dog.

Official site: www.dogyears.co.uk

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Spectacularly un-Spectrish

Tales of the UnexpectedAt my age, you’d have thought I’d have learnt not to be fooled by a gorgeous comic cover only to find the contents of said comic don’t live up expectations. But having only recently been blessed with the return to Lancaster, at last, of a store (First Age) selling US comics, I clearly have to re-learn such things.

The comic in question is the recently-released Tales of the Unexpected #1 from DC Comics, an anthology title featuring a new version of the Spectre by written by David Lapham and with art by Eric Battle and Prentis Rollins; and a Doctor Thirteen tale by Brian Azarello and Cliff Chiang (www.cliffchiang.com).

Ignoring my bemusement at how DC can trademark Tales of the Unexpected – surely Roald Dahl’s estate have something to say about that - the comic has a fab cover by Mike Mignola featuring the Spectre. It suckered me into forking up £2.50, only to discover either story failed to live up to expectation.

Art-wise, I liked the back-up strip, Doctor Thirteen – Chiang has a clean line style with great storytelling ability that sent me seeking out earlier work online. That said, the story proved more disturbing than unexpected. Yes, I’m getting old, but surely I can’t be the only comics reader who finds the idea of a ‘hero’ who’s having disturbing dreams about being in bed with his daughter, later asked if he would eat her if they were marooned, more than a little unsettling. I'm sure this all has something to do with the foe Doctor Thirteen soon faces -- I won't spoil the surprise by saying hwo -- but still...

As for The Spectre; I gather he’s gone a bit barmy since I last saw the character, as written by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing. Infinite Crisis has given DC the excuse to turn the Spectre into a psychpathic ethereal “reborn instrument of God's wrath”, exacting bloody vengeance on those who deserve to be brutally slain (Wikipedia will bring you up to speed on the Spectre’s recent history http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre_(comics). In this case someone who kept rats but the landlord’s incompetence led to their death.

Who’s this comic aimed at? What’s it being racked with Stateside? Let me S, S, S – Simpsons Comics, Superman, Spectre… Yes, that works. Can’t see minors picking that up.

All right, this is the first issue and there may be a darker side to the apartment block where pet owners carve up the landlord in the basement. But unlike the clean style of Chiang’s earlier stories featuring the new Spectre, Battle and Rollins art is contrived, the ethereal Crispus Allen – the Spectre’s host – rarely seen as an obvious ‘ghost’. The story itself is slight, the bloody revenge of the Spectre on the distraught rat owner hardly appealing. Not enough to want to find out what dark secrets the apartment building holds, especially since this story also hints at violent paedophilia.

Honestly, you have to wonder what the editors at DC Comics were thinking when they came up with this unpleasant two-hander.

Considering the creative minds involved, you expect edgy, you expect dark… but not vile.

Tales of the Unexpected. Unexpectedly dire.

Monday, 9 October 2006

Collected Curios

For those of you who've ever been to a comics convention, or who have thought about going, this is surely for you both: www.collectedcurios.com/sequentialart.html - currently exposing the dark underbelly of fandom... in spades!

Friday, 29 September 2006

Blogging from space

This has nothing to do with comics but definitely worth a mention -- in terms of potential bragging this one pretty much tops several list.

Blogging from space.

Private space tourist Anousheh Ansari - a Star Trek fan, by the way - posted several items to her blog from the International Space Station while in orbit: spaceblog.xprize.org.

E-mail is set in batches from the ISS three times a day so there was no opportunity for "real-time" reportage, but the blog must surely be a bit of a first for Netizens.

In one of her final entries from orbit the Iranian-born Ansari writes of her experience and feedback from readers:

"My trip is coming to an end but my dreams have just started.

"You tell me in your messages that I have inspired you… Well I have to admit you all have inspired me right back… Every time I feel like I’m drowning in the sadness of my departure from the space station, I try to reach for one of your messages and pull myself out and look forward to what we can all do together."

Yep, that sounds like a Star Trek fan to me -- and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Bitey Castle

Okay, this isn't comics but I've just been sent this link to some truly stunning Flash animation, created by former Disney animator Adam Phillips: www.biteycastle.com/content/animation_brk.php (obviously, you need Flash to view)

Bitey Castle by Adam PhillipsThere's some scary stuff here -- part of a wider project this Australian creator has come up with. His home site is: brackenwood.net, another well worth checking out.

Back in 1988, Adam managed a team of animators through several major Disney sequels but it was his discovery of Flash in 2000 that led him to his current creations. Brackenwood is clearly a labour of love and I hope the feature film he'd like to make becomes a reality.

Monday, 25 September 2006

Delano's Outlaw Nation collected

Releases do Neorama reports that Jamie Delano's complete Outlaw Nation, which the British author describes as "my shot at a big, sprawling 'American Adventure Story'", first published by Vertigo in 2001 and 2002, will be published in November, in a black and white edition.

Delano reckons the work is some of the best of his career, with art by Goran Sudzuka and Goran Parlov. "It certainly looks damn good, especially in this black-and-white edition," says Delano. "I hope any new readers who pick it up have will have half as much enjoyment in reading it as I had in its writing."

Friday, 22 September 2006

News read by Monkeys


The mobile "Monkey News" product I've been working on (although not as much as the rest of the team) -- the news read by monkeys -- has finally been launched.

Designed for mobile phones, the service features animated news readers, reading newsfeed supplied by Reuters. Real news, read by monkeys. Some would say there's little difference between this and proper tv news but I think that's being a little unfair... See what you think at: www.monkeynewsnetwork.com.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Fab Holiday

Just back from a terrific holiday in Turkey. Yalikavak, on the Bodrum penninsula is very pleasant, quietish resort: we have been twice and rarely re-visit resorts but our first experience of the place two years ago was marred by a poor hotel, the Ali Baba which has changed management and now gone exclusive. The resort itself appealed and it was why we went back having been made to feel very welcome.

The Windmill Otel was a welcome place to stay this time around: it has no airs and graces, but the pool area and bar are great for time to relax (Barney the hotel's van cat will almost certainly say hello at meal times but will otherwise ignore you); the rooms are basic but if you're on holiday, how much time do you spend in one anyway—and all have A/C if needed.

The staff are great and the Scottish co-runner is forthright, lovely lady, Pat, is very helpful. The hotel also benefits from being off the main drag which means it's less noisy although noise does carry a little from the bar area at night and by September abandoned dogs (people from Istanbul just leave them in resort when they go home) can occasionally kick up quite an early morning chorus in response to the call to prayer. Definitely much better than Ali Baba!

As to the resort: this is not a quiet rural resort like Cavus, where we have stayed before in Turkey, but neither is it as tourist-filled as Bodrum. The local shops sit nicely with some tourist shops and there is a good mix of restaurants to suit any pocket, from the Chumbali (posh) to tapas from the Kosedes. With a big Brit and Irish ex-pat population there are a couple of restaurants given over to British menus; of these we had no problems eating at Mustis, a steak house, even though we prefer the more traditional restaurants like the Half Ada (sadly, this will probably not be there next time we visit). In terms of cost places like Mustis are more expensive but generally we paid around 30 lira tops for a meal at the Half Ada, although we did not drink much alcohol which always brings the price of a meal down! Other recommended restaurants are the Seyir - a fish restaurant near the recently-built marina we did not try but several locals say is good; and the Ali Baba, not to be confused with the hotel of the same name. The Three Brothers is a good place (or was this year) for lunch and late night drinking.

Locally there are some good walks including a two kilometer hike to the deserted village of Sandima - deserted that is apart from a couple of artists who have a galery there that is well worth a visit and an old man who still luves there who refused to move to the coast with the rest of his village!

If you're travelling with a tour company, Thomas Cook was much better than Manos in our experience: our organised trip to Ephesus and Pammukkale this year was one of the best I've ever been on abroad (despite the obligatory carpet factory visit!). Getting around the Bodrum peninusla should be fairly easy by dolmus although be aware that you have to go to Bodrum first by dolmus before going anywhere else.

Local trip wise, you can make a trip to the Greek island of Kos pretty easily, by hydrofoil or ferry - the crossing only takes about 25 - 30 minutes in good weather.

Comics-wise: a lot of US underground reprint as well as a smattering of European strip. No British reprint that I could see (although I have had e-mails from publishers in Turkey with reprint enquiries).

All in all a wonderful holiday, a friendly resort and the usual wonderful Turkish hospitality. Thank you, Yalikavak!

Battles in Time gets national launch

Battles in Time, the Doctor Who part work combining articles, a Customisable Card Game and comic strip by a variety of creators including artists John Ross and Lee Sullivan, is now on sale.

The game doesn't look too bad but the production values on the comic-magazine pale compared with other kids titles on the market, such as TOXIC! - which may look garish but at least is well designed - The Dandy and Wallace & Gromit.

This is yet another case of comics being "dumbed down". When modern kids are considerably more sophisticated compared with my (ancient) generation, why do some kids comics seem to be created as if they're being written for morons?

This formatying issue reminds me of the time Look-In decided to do away with comic strips drawn in traditonal form by the likes of Arthur Ranson and others and make every frame look like a TV screen. The garsish colours, unintelligible layouts and simplistic formatting of many of today's British kids comics all smack of a lack of respect for the intelligence of the target audience who have grown up quite happy to read Harry Potter.

"I suppose it reflects other media," my friend Lew Stringer notes. "Children's tv is now full of noise and primary colours, whilst the local 6 o'clock news programmes look more like sixties Blue Peter.

"It's a conspiracy to make us all too thick to start a revolution I tells ya!"

I'm with you, Lew!

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Breaking into comics - the Bishop speaks

Former 2000AD editor David Bishop recently posted a revealing interview outlining how he broke into comics and thoughts on how to get work in the industry on his Vicious Imagery blog.

As usual, he's very candid about his work, which includes this comment on the shock of working on 2000AD as its editor, having been about to leave Fleetway for pastures new when the position was offered him.

"I had been gagging to get my grubby mitts on the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and was determined to reverse what I saw as the failings of my predecessors, so I stuck around and became Tharg on December 18, 1995," he reveals. "I quickly discovered how tough editing 2000AD really is and gained a newfound respect for my predecessors.

"It’s very easy to snipe at whomever is Tharg and criticise their choices, but until you’ve sat in the big chair you have no idea how tough that job is," he admits with hindsight. "It’s a bit of a bastard, frankly."

Bishop feels it's easier for artists to break into the business than writers but makes some salient points about how to do it despite "bugger all money" for doing so (his words, not mine). Fascinating stuff.

Austen Baker Strikes Back

Oh dear, I seem to have upset Mr Austen Baker after I reported on his letter to Private Eye bemoaning public transport and bus lanes (he gets a right pasting in the current edition from other readers so it would appear I wasn't the only person he annoyed with his 'rich must come first' inferences of the published version of his correspondence to Brtiain's best-known satirical magazine.

Given that his Private Eye letter was of local interest I posted a story about it on Virtual-Lancaster too, provoking a quick response from the gentleman which I am only too happy to publish here for 'balance'

Dear Sir,

You have given prominence to a rant from someone who turns out to be one John Freeman, who appears to be a local public transport obsessive, relating to a letter from me published in the current issue of Private Eye. I'm afraid I would have to give him an F for English Comprehension, on the strength of this item, which also appears on his blog.

I did not say the rich should be given priority over the poor in transport matters, nor did I evince a belief that lower earners are second class citizens. I made two points - in rather direct manner, as befits Private Eye (this is not the Spectator or the Economist) - both of which have to be understood in the context of arguments over transport that have been going on for decades now.

One concern has always been that congestion, because it delays the arrival of goods and workers, carries with it an economic cost. My point was that bus lanes are not the solution to this. Bus users are likely to be on average lower earners than car users (subject to lots of qualifications and exceptions one cannot make in a short letter to the press). Economically (not morally) speaking, higher earners' time is more important - their greater earnings reflect a greater economic value placed on their time. A low earner delayed for 30 minutes represents a smaller loss to the economy as a whole than a higher earner delayed for the same time. This is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a moment or two. And I did not even argue that higher paid car users should be given priority over buses; merely that buses, with their lower earning passengers should not be given priority over cars (which is a quite different argument). Bus lanes narrow the available space available to cars and goods vehicles, thus exacerbating the delays they suffer in order to minimize delays for bus users. There is a cost to the economy of such a policy, and it does not seem to me that it necessarily makes good economic sense. That is all.

The second argument, which represented the bulk of my letter, and which he does not actually refute, is that transport policy ought not to be made against the background of a public debate distorted by misrepresentations.

I pointed out that buses not only emit quite a bit of pollution themselves, but, by forcing queues of traffic behind them to slow down/stop and then accelerate away again each time the bus stops to pick up or set down passengers, create additional pollution not usually counted in calculating environmental impacts (just set your car's trip computer to display current fuel consumption, and compare consumption - which equals emissions - at a steady 30 with the consumption as you pull away and get up to speed: the latter is phenomenally higher).

I also offered a recent example from a recent BBC TV news broadcast. Viewers were told that a journey from London to Edinburgh by car put out 100kg of emissions per person, by plane 50kg and by train 25kg. What they were not told was that this assumes one person in the car but a full to capacity train. Outside peak hours, though, we all know perfectly well that trains are far from full. I have made literally hundreds of journeys on trains little more than a quarter full. In that case, the train works out at 100kg per person, and if two people are making the car trip, the car works out at 50kg per person. You will see how misleading some of the statistics used can be.

I also pointed out the logical fallacy of using such figures to justify a proposal to charge large sums per mile to use busy roads at peak times (as the BBC was doing): at peak times on popular routes the trains are full, so penalising drivers to induce them onto the trains at those times on those routes would have a devastating effect on the rail infrastructure (and I pointed out that the BBC regional news for the West Midlands immediately following the news programme in question, carried an item about how through rail routes were to be cut because New Street Station in Birmingham was already operating at double the capacity it was designed for - highlighting the illogicality of the Government/BBC argument).

Finally, Mr Freeman takes a swipe at the University. I wrote to Private Eye expressing my own views, not those of the University, and it is inappropriate for him to suggest that what I write reflects University transport policy. While I do not speak for the University, I would point out that it does in fact have a coherent transport plan, agreed with the local authority, and makes great efforts to promote cycling, bus use and car sharing amongst its staff (and, with certain exceptions in special circumstances, prohibits students from obtaining parking permits). The University is, however, one of the city's largest employers and a major contributor to the local economy, so it naturally attracts a lot of traffic carrying both staff and visitors - all the transport plans in the world won't change that.

I realise that this is a local community website, but it is Nonetheless important that people are not misrepresented in this cavalier fashion. I would ask that you give my rebuttal equal prominence with Mr Freeman's assertions.

Yours faithfully,
Dr Richard Austen-Baker
Lecturer in Law
Lancaster University Law School
LANCASTER
LA1 4YN

So there you have it - just for balance.

Freak Brothers pilot online

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers pilot is online at last: this is being made in Bristol. if you're not familiar with the Furry Freak Brothers this is probably meaningless to you, but it's quite fun regardless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=YINWUjFQRDU

Sunday, 3 September 2006

ComicPal Auction features Beano rarity

The Autumn 2006 auction at Compalcomics (www.compalcomics.com) closes soon. One of four auctions held annually, this one features 273 lots in our Autumn catalogue including what the company describes as two particularly "exceptional" items; a Beano Comic No 1 and a Dandy Monster Comic No 1.

The Beano is one of the three highest graded copies to be offered at auction and the Dandy book, kept in a brown paper wrapper for most of its life, is Very Fine Plus, by far and away the highest graded example ever seen for sale.

The company's offerings of bound volume collections continues with further choice UK titles on offer, including John Bull, Comic Life, Jungle Jinks, Sexton Blake and Tiger Tim’s Tales 1-24 and The Wonder. On the artwork front, this auction features a wonderful piece of Dudley Watkins artwork starring those loveable mischief-makers, Lord Snooty And His Pals.

There's also is a near complete run of Eagle for sale and a very high grade collection of TV Century 21 as well.

Bids will be accepted until Tuesday 5 September at 8 PM UK time.

Bear Alley

Over on Bear Alley, comics expert Steve Holland reports that the Look and Learn web site, with which he is heavily involved, officially launches in a matter of days. This is run by a company which now owns the publishing rights to much of the Magazine (except for some strips like Trigan Empire) and the site includes a fantastic searchable database of many of the illustrations that appeared in the title down the years by the likes of Don Lawrence and many others.

Lancaster Comics Festival plugged

Three cheers for local journalist James Griffiths, who got in touch with me via virtual-lancaster, another site I work on that has nothing to do with comics, asking about upcoming events in the Lancaster area. Thanks to him the Lancaster Comics Festival got a plug in this Saturday's national Guardian. Nice one.

Saturday, 2 September 2006

How many people viewing this?

Having just added a site meter I'm guessing this might be a little depressing... although since I can't seem to make it display on the page, maybe I shouldn't worry!

Thursday, 31 August 2006

Rich People must come first on transport says lecturer

This got right up my nose this week: a Lancaster University lecturer has declared rich people should come first on matters of transport.

Law lecturer Richard Austen-Baker, who works at Lancaster University’s law school, took magazine Private Eye to task this week for “being taken in by the public transport lobby”, arguing in favour of abolishing bus lanes – a move Birmingham and Ealing councils are in the process of making.

In a letter to Private Eye Austen-Baker, perhaps reflecting the University’s continued lack of transport strategies, resulting in huge car use that helps to choke Lancaster’s one-way system in term time, argues that ”People… use public transport because they can’t afford private transport. On average, bus passengers who are employed at all (many are pensioners, students and schoolchildren or the unemployed) earn far less than car users.”

Clearly Austen-Baker thinks these people are second class citizens compared to car drivers, arguing “their time is less valuable to the economy.
“It therefore makes no sense whatever to give them priority over people in cars.”

Austen-Baker obviously has it in for public transport, claiming arguments for it are based on “misrepresentations”. Perhaps he's been stuck behind a bus pumping out “horrible emissions in large doses once too often” once too often on his way to work during term time, obviously unable to notice that most of the traffic causing jams in Lancaster are his fellow lecturers and students driving to the University, despite the huge number of buses laid on by various privatised bus companies.

There’s only one “horrible emission” I can definitely see here — and it isn’t a bus.

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Walls and bridges

Walls and Bridges is freelance writer Joel Meadows' new blog -- he's previously edited a comics magazine, Tripwire, and writes features on comics for a variety of publications, most recently The Times and The Observer. I've known Joel for many years -- he regulalrly reported on Marvel UK back in the days when it still existed.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

ParcelWorst (or ParcelFarce)

I've just sent an e-letter to Parcelforce regarding their appalling service in delivering a parcel to my work address. The parcel’s finally arrived, three days late, banged about and only now reached me because the driver “found it in the back of the van mixed up with other stuff”.

Sheesh!

Of course, they may well have delivered it now only because I’ve phoned no less than two depots to complain about its non-arrival, several times. Apparently (and this has to be one of the best excuses for incompetence yet) the regular delivery driver had cracked a rib, so he's off work, and some of the relief drivers didn't know where the company I work for was.

Peculiar, since they deliver stuff to us almost every morning. You’d expect Parcelforce, a division of the Post Office, to know the location of a business (albeit a new one) and certainly the location referred to in the postcode.

Using Parcelforce’s tracking site it seems the package has gone everywhere but Lancaster – even going to the Liverpool depot at one point – before arriving here.

Perhaps the most galling thing about all this is that I had to call no less than three 0870 numbers to try and get some human explanation for what had happened to the delivery.

Other than having used Parcelforce to deliver my goods, even if they do use an 0870 number, I can't fault Pet Supermarket who have been extremely polite and tried to help me out in explaining where the package is. (They realised I'd put the wrong postcode on my order, for example, and corrected the delivery address before giving it to Parcelforce).

Parcelforce on the other hand — or ParcelWorst, as I like to call them — beggar belief: an automated 0870 voice identification-driven system that took me over four minutes to get through to anyone in the Newcastle office and over eight minutes to reach someone in the Preston depot. That’s almost 15 minutes of national call rates at 8p a minute minimum to try and track something I had already paid for. Which doesn't sound a lot, but since I chased yesterday, too, the call costs quickly mount up.

Incredibly, Ofcom have only just started to act on the “mis-use” of 0870 numbers, despite beginning a consultation back in 2004. According to a statement on their web site it’s still going to take some 18 months before they actually do something. The changes are actually quite positive but goodness only knows why they're taking so long to bring in.

This isn't the first time I've had a bad experience with Parcelforce: they managed to almost loose a valuable and irreplaceable package I sent to the continent, so it was very irritating that they were proudly touting this service while waiting for a human to pick up the expensive phone.

Apparently, the regular Parcelforce driver’s going to be off for six weeks. He has my sympathy, but I don’t think I’ll be ordering much over the Internet for a while...

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

US Newspaper polls readers on cartoon choice

Can't see the the UK Guardian ever doing this: or getting as much feedback -- some 5000 readers replied - on a newspaper's plans to alter its comic strip section.

www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/entertainment/comics/15254126.htm


Strips to vote on here:

www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/entertainment/comics/15244087.htm

Monday, 14 August 2006

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Links section revamp

There might not seem to be much going on at downthetubes -- but you'd be wrong. It's all "under the bonnet" stuff though -- tidying up images folders, a revised links section which hopefully makes more sense to visitors.

The image flder changes were brought on by increasing "bandwidth theft" problems that I hope I've solved with a few technical tweaks to stop direct links to images on my site. I don't like doing this -- but it was starting to cost me money.

On the writing front, there's a cartoon project that looks as though it may finally see a wider audience after three years of writing it, with Nick Miller on the art chores. Fingers crossed...

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Is there such a thing as a free comic?

I've just been sent an email by wowio, an ad-based service offering downloadable e-books - including comics from UK publisher Markosia and others.

It all sounds fine and dandy but the stumbling block came when I tried it out, only to discover they want your credit card details to 'prove your identity'. Hmm... I think this is an interesting idea, but if it's really free, why do they need my credit card details at all?

Incredibly they advise that if you don't have a credit card, you can "have a parent or friend set up an account and vouch for you". Well, that's not exactly checking your identity, is it?

I don't really know who wowio are, even though they do publish a land address on their site. It just dosen't feel right, I'm afraid. This one gets a miss.

To their credit, I expressed my concerns in an e-mail and they get top marks for instant customer feedback. Here's their response in full:

"We use credit cards as a simple and practical means of authenticating a user's identity. This is important for a number of reasons: (1) it allows us to give advertisers accurate metrics--i.e., when we claim x number of unique people have downloaded their ad, we can be prove that it's true, (2) it allows us to limit the number of downloads per person per day, which allows us to manage the burn rate of the ad pipeline and ensure the continued availability of titles, and (3) it allows us to label the book with the user's name and other markers, which is important from the perspective of minimizing illegal file trading, etc.

"We use encrypted SSL to transmit all information securely, and we do not store your credit card number or related information. We check it once to make sure you are who you say you are, and that's it. We also will not share your personal information with anyone -- ever -- without your written permission.

"We understand the apprehension of many users to put in credit card information. It takes time to build trust. We hope we can earn yours."


Stupid Cycle Lanes



Just been sent this great site (www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk/facility-of-the-month) with a plethora of examples of silly cycle lanes. The one above is in York (pic creditted to one Ian Bromsgrove). You can click on the left arrow at the top of the page on the site to go back through the months...

One for gas guzzlers to enjoy at the thought of all those wretched cyclists having a hard time, while the cyclists can simply either laugh or despair at the stupidity of councils everywhere.

No local examples (although there is a classic from Blackpool): I'm sure they would be appreciated. Obviously, since Lancaster is one of Britain's "Cycling Towns" (and getting shedloads of money to be so) local cyclists don't want similar stupidity to happen here. Given that the council's usual concept of road planning for non car users seems to consist largely of building pelican crossings at locations only where (and after) people have been killed crossing the road, you can see they have every right to be worried...

I'm sure there must be an equivalent site for stupid road layouts, but I haven't found it yet. Of course, the funny side of this evaporates when you realise just how much all these civic works cost...

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