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Friday, 14 December 2007

Forbidden Lego

A book showing children how to make guns out of LEGO is causing parents to have fits as it climbs the list of must-have Christmas presents. Forbidden Lego, written by two former employees of the Danish plastic-brick firm, Ulrik Pilegaard and Mike Dooley, was released back in August and is a big hit in the US, promising you'll learn to create working models that LEGO would never endorse.

A Daily Telegraph review describes the tome "as the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery", (we're not sure if that's a description the reviewer came up with) which is a bit hysterical to say the least. There certainly isn't a guide to making an atomic bomb made from LEGO which one parent railed against, but that hasn't stopped the often sensationalist Daily Mail from claiming "Lego is set to turn slightly more sinister with the launch of an unofficial book that teaches children how to make weapons out of the iconic plastic bricks."

(The book's publisher, No Starch Press, reveals the plans included are for a toy gun that shoots LEGO plates, a candy catapult (which admittedly could be reconfigured to shoot something else), a high voltage LEGO vehicle, a continuous-fire ping-pong ball launcher, and "other useless but incredibly fun inventions").

In reality there are only a few models detailed in the book, but the plans are pretty comprehensive, and I'd hope get you thinking about exactly what is possible when it comes to using LEGO - which would be better than idling away in front of the TV, surely. And, despite the concerns of the Mail, the paper also admits the book's launch has seen a huge surge in LEGO sales.

Eagle Times launches blog

The Eagle Times, the magazine of the Eagle Society dedicated to the memory of the eponymous ground-breaking 1950s adventure comic, now has a web presence in the form of a blog.

Among other things there is news of the contents and cover of the current issue, Eagle Times, Volume 20 No 4, which includes features on the untold stories of Dan Dare, a tribute to Dan Dare writer and founder of the Samaritans, the Revd. Dr. Edward Chad Varah, and much more.

Membership of THE EAGLE SOCIETY is via Annual Subscription to EAGLE TIMES magazine, which is published four times annually.

Current Subscription rates are: UK £22, Overseas £26 (in £s Sterling, please)

Please apply by snail mail to: Keith Howard, 25A Station Road Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA United Kingdom

Enquiries: eagle-times@hotmail.com

The future of newspapers?

(With thanks to the Daily Cartoonist for the link): American editorial cartoonist Ted Rall has recently written a three-part column on the future of the newspaper industry.

Part I
As big newspapers and magazines start giving away their content "violating the first rule of capitalism", Ted tries to convince his bank to apply the principals of revenue share to his mortgage payments ("I don't have a budget to pay you per se," I cooed. "But think of the awesome prestige your corporation receives just by being associated with a cartoonist and columnist whose work is literally read by millions of --" Click. Citibank (Bangalore), Ltd., signing out. Back to work!")

Part II
Ted warns that "If the future of media looks like the Web does now, things are about to degenerate from grim to grisly" and intellectual property vampires will suck creators dry." (Ouch. Good job there's a built in fee for every download of a ROK Comic...). The solution? If content is appropriately priced, of an appropriately high quality, and easy to access, people will pay for it," asserts Simson Garfinkel, a fellow at the Harvard University Center for Research on Computation and Society and the author of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century. "What is required is a system that is easy to use and licensing terms that are not onerous."

Part III
Ted warns of the perils of the rise of free newspapers, warning that "Ultimately [free dailies] will breed in people the idea that news shouldn't cost anything, even that news is cheap" (and by extension, the visual contents such as phtographs and cartoons that come with them).

Both Ted Rall’s editorial cartoons and columns are distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

Should Have Been Christmas Number One...

Well this, or Shaun the Sheep...

Infinite Accquisitions

In a marriage of SF makers, independent British television producer Impossible Pictures, makers of Prehistoric Park and Primeval for ITV has acquired the Manchester-based animation company Firestep.

The acquisition expands Impossible Pictures’ operations outside of London and the company says it will enable the company to explore new ways of approaching factual and drama, as well as tap into opportunities in the children’s market.

Co-founded by Steve Maher and Jonathan Doyle, Firestep is best known for its work on the animated serial Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest.

"This is an important stage in the development of our business, which is based firmly on creativity and the ability to bring innovation and ambition to everything we do," says Jonathan Drake, the managing director of Impossible Pictures, who will also chair the Firestep board. "There’s already a real buzz around the new opportunities we can pursue together. At the same time we hope to contribute to the energy and creativity that’s there to be tapped in the Manchester production community.”

Thursday, 13 December 2007

More Spider-Man from Panini

US comics site Newsarama has just posted an interview with Panini's Ed Hammond, editor of Spectacular Spider-Man and reprint editor of Marvel Pocketbooks, interviewing him about their UK range of Marvel reprints.

Spectacular Spider-Man is reprinted in a number of territories including Germany, Spain and France in magazine form and is one of just two Panini titles featuring originated strip (the other being Doctor Who Magazine).

In addition to featuring some stunning upcoming Spider-Man art, Ed talks frankly about the UK comics market, explaining most children's titles are now based on licensed characters, arguing this is due to pressure from the big chain stores that will not risk stocking a kid’s title unless it has an already established presence either as a toy range, TV show or movie - the only exceptions being long standing comics brands in their own right like Beano and Dandy.

"Kid’s titles in the UK have changed to become more interactive, including things like fact files, activity pages, lifestyle features etc, in order to stimulate and satisfy readers," he comments. "The unfortunate side effect from this is that the amount of strip has been cut to only a third or in some cases a quarter of the page count. They’ve really become more like activity magazines than traditional comics."

Panini's argument is that titles have had to "evolve" beyond the comic strip only format. "Whilst a good story with excellent art is important, greater variety is needed to sell comics for kids in the UK market," Ed argues.

What isn't mentioned is that such pages are also far cheaper to produce than a comics page, and when you're in a very competitive market, vying for shelf space against companies such as Titan, Egmont and DC Thomson, you have to watch those costs.

"I know a lot of editors and creators who would love to produce a new fully originated, 100% strip, UK comic containing original characters," Ed says. "Unfortunately, due to the amount of control the big chains have over distribution, it would be a huge challenge to get it into enough shops to make a profit."

No argument there - launching an originated comic today in the UK woudl depend on a lot of retailer goodwill and those big chains like Tesco and ASDA are not in it for goodwill. But despite this, Ed's also right to point out how bouyant the UK comics scene is in terms of the number of comic titles, even though most are licensed and most feature just reprint strip.

"There are an awful lot of titles out there," he says, "which is making for some healthy competition amongst publishers. "

You can read the full interview here.

An Embuggerance: Terry Pratchett has Alzheimers

Possibly the best sellling fantasy novelist ever and certainly Britain's biggest selling author until J.K. Rowling, Terry Prachett has announced he is suffering from a rare case of early onset Alzheimer’s.

The news has come to his millions of fans, including me. I've nejoyed his work for years, since the release of The Colour of Magic, to be broadcast as a drama by Sky next Easter..

The 59-year-old writer made the announcement through a web posting to fans on the website of illustrator Paul Kidby, who has worked on many of Pratchett’s Discworld titles.

Describing the illness as “An Embuggerance” and also advising that he is definitely not dead, Terry told fans he would have liked to keep the illness quiet for a little while, "but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

"We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism," he continued. "For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet.

"I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as'I am not dead'," he added. "I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry."

In addition to the immensely popular Discworld series, Prachett co-authored Good Omens with Neil Gaiman, and several of his novels have been adapted into comics. His books have sold more than 45 million copies around the globe.

Last year, Pratchett told the Daily Mail that he had been unaware that he had suffered a stroke until he had a brain scan, which showed that a stroke had been caused by a blood clot which created a blockage in the artery to his brain. Two or three years before the stroke was diagnosed, he had noticed "that his typing had been going all over the place", he said. Pratchett finally decided to see a doctor while working on a manuscript and felt as though he was "typing wearing gloves".

Alzheimer's disease is a (currently incurable) progressive, degenerative and irreversible brain disorder that causes intellectual impairment, disorientation and eventually death and it's estimated that 2-5 per cent of people over 65 years of age and up to 20 per cent of those over 85 years of age suffer from the disease. Some 417,000 people suffer from Alzheimer's in Britain, but of all those diagnosed, only 3.5 per cent are aged under 65.

"Mr Pratchett's decision to discuss his diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is a brave one," Neil Hunt, chief executve of Britain's Alzheimer's Society commented. "It is all the more encouraging because of his resolve to remain so positive... [his] commitment to continue working reflects the experiences of many people, who in the earliest stages of dementia will work and socialise with the support of loved ones and carers."

You can support the work of the Society by making an online donation or taking part in one of their many fund raising events.

Eisner Awards 2008 - Includes web comics


Submissions are now being accepted for consideration by the judges for the 2008 Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards. Publishers wanting to submit entries should send one copy each of the comics or books and include a cover letter indicating what is being submitted and in what categories.

The tentative categories include best single issue, best short story, best continuing comic book series (at least two issues must have been published in 2007), best limited comic book series (at least half of the series must have been published in 2007), best new series, best title aimed at a younger audience, best humor publication, best anthology, best graphic album—new material, best graphic album—reprint, best reality-based work, best archival collection, best U.S. edition of foreign material, best writer, best writer/artist, best penciler/inker (individual or team), best painter (interior art), best lettering, best coloring, best comics-related book, best comics journalism periodical or website, and best publication design. The judges may add, delete, or combine categories at their discretion. The cover letter should include both a mailing address and an e-mail address.

Creators can submit materials for consideration if: (a) their publisher is no longer in business; (b) their publisher is unlikely to have participated in the nomination process; or (c) they have severed connections with the publisher or have similar reasons for believing that their publisher is unlikely to consider nominating them or their work.

Publishers may submit a maximum of five items for any one category, and the same item or person can be submitted for more than one category. Each imprint, line, or subsidiary of a publisher may submit its own set of entries. There are no entry fees.

All submissions should be sent to Jackie Estrada, Eisner Awards Administrator, 4657 Cajon Way, San Diego, CA 92115, before the deadline of 14 March 2008.

Entries are also being accepted for the category of best webcomic. This category is open to any new, professionally produced long-form original comics work posted online in 2007.

Webcomics must have a unique domain name or be part of a larger comics community to be considered. The work must be online-exclusive for a significant period prior to being collected in print form. The URL and any necessary access information should be emailed to jackiee@mindspring.com.

The Eisner Award nominees will be announced in April, and ballots will go out in May to professionals in the comics industry, including creators, editors, publishers, distributors, and retailers. The results will be announced by celebrity presenters at the gala awards ceremony on the evening of July 25 at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

• Further information on the Eisner Awards and a downloadable pdf of the Call for Entries can be found at www.comic-con.org/cci/cci_eisners_main.shtml

• Anyone with questions about submitting entries for the awards can e-mail Ms. Estrada at jackiee@mindspring.com or call her at (619) 286-1591.

Hammer Stills Exhbition at BFI

Hammer Films, now in revival with plans to launch a 20 episode version of Beyond the Rave on its MySpace site, became synnonymous with horror. Yet the company produced a wide range of films including comedies, period costume adventures, psychological thrillers and war pictures. These were frequently frowned upon by critics who viewed the company as the purveyor of inconsequential exploitation pictures-an unfair representation of a brand that was one of the biggest success stories of the British film industry.

Many of Britain's most celebrated actors and technicians worked for Hammer - Joseph Losey, Freddie Francis, Val Guest, Robert Aldrich, Terrence Fisher all directed Hammer films.

Now, a selection of stills from the national collection are described by Wayne Kinsey and on display daily on the Mezzanine Level of the BFI on the South Bank, London from 11.00am until 10.30pm daily until 6 January 2008. Admission is free. (Nearest tube Waterloo. London SE1 8XT). For more news check out www.hammerfilms.com.

Beyond the Rave (pictured above), Hammer's first new production, will be broadcast in episodes on MySpace next spring before being released on DVD. Featuring Sadie Frost, the film is a UK co-production with the social networking website. The Guardian reports that Hammer says said Beyond the Rave would contain "all the ingredients of a Hammer classic made for a 21st Century audience: vampires, blood, death and suspense throughout".

Website bloody disgusting reported back in October that the film is a vampire story set in England’s underground party scene, and a combination of traditional horror themes and contemporary setting and characters. The movie follows the last hours of freedom of local soldier Ed, who is flying out to Iraq the following morning. With the help of his best friend Necro, he spends his last night in the UK tracking down his missing girlfriend Jen, last seen partying with a bizarre group of hardcore night-time ravers led by the mysterious Melech.

But as he catches up with Jen at a party in a remote forest, Ed discovers that Melech’s crowd, who are hosting the event, are looking for more than a night of fun, and that not everyone will make it through to dawn…

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