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Friday, 2 May 2008

Bond on the Radio, New Titan Collection

Ian Fleming, renowned author and creator of iconic spy James Bond, was born 100 years ago and to mark this special anniversary, BBC Radio 4 is joining in the celebrations - which include the release of more James Bond comics collections from Titan Books, including The Paradise Plot - with a short season of programmes dedicated to the author.

The shows include an all-star dramatisation of the first James Bond book, Dr No; a documentary following Fleming's niece on a personal journey to find out more about her uncle; and an exploration of what the creation of James Bond tells us about post-Empire Britain.

On Saturday 24 May (at 2.30pm), Toby Stephens and David Suchet star in the first ever full radio adaptation of Dr No, Ian Fleming's 1958 James Bond novel.

Recovering from the after-effects of his last assignment, Bond is given what appears to be an easy job on his next case. Sent to Jamaica to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two of his colleagues, Bond discovers that the heart of the mystery lies with a sinister recluse on Crab Key, Dr No, and before long Bond comes face to face with this bizarre creature and soon he is fighting for his life in a murderous game.

The cast also include Samuel West, John Standing, Martin Jarvis and Peter Capaldi.

In The Bond Correspondence, also on Saturday 24 May (10.30am), Ian Fleming's niece, Lucy Fleming, sets out to discover more about both her uncle and the creation of his most famous character, James Bond. Her uncle has, until now, been someone Lucy vaguely remembers from her teens but after she delves into dusty old boxes of letters to see the wealth of correspondence from readers and his responses, she discovers a lesser known side of Ian.

She goes inside the old Naval Intelligence Unit where her uncle worked in the Second World War, visits his wartime girlfriend Joan Bright Astley, and stepdaughter Fionn Morgan, and, in doing so, brings to life ghosts from the past.

On Monday 26 May, Professor David Cannadine argues that the Bond novels are a fantastic response to the moment when Britain lost an Empire but was still struggling to find a role in the new world.

In James Bond, The Last Englishman, Cannadine claims that Fleming's Bond novels have played a key role in shaping England's national self-image and Bond is the consolatory fantasy of Fleming, the nostalgic conservative appalled by Britain's collapse as a great power.

There will also be another chance to hear Amis, Amis and Bond on Sunday 18 May (1.30pm) in which Martin Amis explores his father's obsessive interest with James Bond and the writing of Ian Fleming with fellow Bond enthusiast Charlie Higson.

The Paradise Plot is released by Titan Books on 27 June 2008 and sees the publication of a story not seen since its original publication. Follow Bond in this ultra rare Ian Fleming adventure as he teams up with fellow 00 agent Suzi Kew to investigate the mysterious disappearances of the world’s most valuable scientists. But with a series of mind-controlled assassins baying for his blood at every turn, can 007 avert disaster once again?

Published with rarely seen story Deathmask the book also includes a new introduction by David Hedison (who played Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die, but is perhaps better known to genre fans as Captain Crane from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and a feature on James Bond comics from around the world.

Pre-order The Paradise Plot from amazon.co.uk

Friday Fun: The Legion of Super Potatoes


With all the interest in potatoes as a potentially better crop than rice in terms of round the year food source (last August, Chinese farmers were being urged to grow spuds instead of rice, for example), what better time for comic creator Martin Hand to finally find the answer to the age old question: what if the Legion of Super-Heroes were potatoes...?

Martin presents a slew of Super Potatoes on the web for your enjoyment, on his Flickr and LiveJournal sites.

• The humble spud is more drought-resistant than other crops grown in many developing countries and it would make a more practical alternative to rice, as well as wheat, although the Sydney Morning Herald reported back in January that there are concerns that potato peel often discarded during cooking creates waste rice growing doesn't. East Timor is developing its own variety of sweet potato in response to drought concerns.

Borderliners Launched

Salford-based writer and artist Brian Gorman is launching a brand new comic book this month, and his work, employing some of the techniques used by Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson and featuring the likeness of Sir Ian McKellen in a starring role, has already attracted praise from leading British comics creators including Liam Sharp and Bryan Talbot.

Borderliners – Ceremony Of Innocence, which is being published by Newcastle Upon Tyne- based Unico Comics, is a one-off ‘pilot’ to introduce a fast-moving 21st century espionage tale with more than a nod to TV drama Spooks and the Jason Bourne film franchise, not to mention the mind-bending sci-fi stories of Philip K Dick (Blade Runner).

The grittily realistic tale of double-crossed government agents fighting to recover their sanity, and hit back against a corrupt department of MI5 was started more than a decade ago.

“Back in Wigan, my hometown, I was visiting my writer friend Chris Harvey when we started chatting about some of our favourite TV shows," Gorman recalls. "We’d always loved The Champions, The New Avengers and The Professionals and we were trying to think of a new twist we could bring to them. We then had the idea of exploring the agents’ home lives. Just what did they do between missions? How did they cope with the stresses of putting their lives on the line all the time? Then it hit us – what if they did have a normal, everyday life but it was all fabricated in order to keep them sane and in line?”

Gorman and Harvey then wrote a 90 minute screenplay, and even attempted to turn it into a comic book back in 1999. However, various other projects took precedence (including several short film projects featuring various well-known faces such as Desmond Llewelyn – ‘Q’ in the James Bond movies).

Gorman completed his degree in Art and English Literature in 1994, then spent over a decade at The Chester Gateway Theatre working in the box office, marketing, poster design, and even appearing on stage in a sell-out production of Bouncers. His first (as yet unpulished) book, a study of the notorious ‘Internet Baby Couple’ Alan and Judith Kilshaw, enabled him to obtain a London literary agent and a deal for a television film. Moving to Salford a year ago suddenly spurred Gorman on towards making Borderliners a reality:

“Coming to Salford was the best move of my life," says Gorman. "There’s a real sense of community here, and so much artistic activity. I tried a stand-up comedy act as my alter-ego ‘Frank Burton (Entertainer)’, and loved the whole experience (whether the audience felt the same way, I’ll probably never know!). I discovered a couple of specialist comics shops which stocked a range of independent titles, and I thought ‘let’s give it a go’”.

Gorman adapted the original screenplay, and the result is Ceremony of Innocence (a nod to one of his favourite poets, W.B. Yeats). Adding a dash of surreal British humour, and a generous helping of all-out action, he’s hoping to attract the attention of the major comics’ publishers.

To add a dose of realism, Gorman uses a technique pioneered by the legendary creator of Dan Dare, Frank Hampson.

“Frank, a one-time Manchester resident, and used his family and friends to pose for photographs as the characters in his comics," Gorman explains. "Then he drew from the photos. I love this technique, as it adds a strong sense of realism, and roots the action in a recognisable world.

"I have several friends who have helped me out for many years, and I even asked Sir Ian McKellen if he could ‘play’ one of the main characters. He sent me a letter agreeing, and wishing me well with the project”.

Things are looking good for Borderliners, with a variety of big-name professionals have given it a resounding thumbs up.

“The effort that's gone into this is clear on every page," feels artist and publisher Liam Sharp, "from the staging, the lighting, rendering and storytelling, to the sparsity of the dialogue - just enough to hint, never enough to tell. It's a joy to read something that doesn't treat the reader like an idiot. No signposts, just intrigue. You have to concentrate. You know that there's going to be a great unfolding of events but you're just getting a tantalising glimpse, not a guided tour.”

"It's an excellent, well executed piece of work," says Wizards Keep creator Tim Perkins, "which I feel and hope will do well."

“Brian’s photo-realistic art is a technique that I can of course readily identify with," adds Strangehaven creator Gary Spencer Millidge, "and the painstaking detail required for the chiaroscuro is rendered with confidence and energy.”

Borderliners has a confident feel to the structure and dialogue," says Doctor Who artist Mike Collins. "There's a sense you know where you're going and I'm keen to be along for the ride -- Gary Spencer Millidge’s Strangehaven is a good touchstone for Brian's approach here and yes -- I want to know what happens next! And that's more than I can say about most mainstream stuff these days!”

With its beautifully realized British setting and characters, Borderliners does indeed evoke the work of Millidge and the photo realist style of Richard Piers Rayner and others, offering a complex but intriguing plot that is sure to appeal to fans of Gorman's favourite TV shows as well as fans of adventure comics.

• The ‘pilot’ issue is available to order from Unico Comics (www.unicocomics.co.uk)

New Elephantmen On Sale Now

Elephantmen: War Toys #3, written and produced by by former Marvel UK staffer Richard Starkings and drawn by Moritat is on sale now in all good comic shops and concludes the much-praised mini-series. Since Mr Starkings has kindly plugged downthetubes in the Elephantmen #12, his regular title (on sale soon), we're more than happy to reciprocate with an unusual plug for a US-originated title!

The issue cover is by Boo Cook, with a variant cover by Ladrönn also avaialble.

If you haven't read Elephantmen then you're missing out on one of the coolest independent US comic books on sale right now -- described by SFX magazine as "pulp sci-fi with a European edge... a future gone wrong made to look nightmarishly beautiful" -- and we're not just plugging the book's praises because Richard slipped us a virtual fiver (he hasn't, curse him, because we always need the money). Cerebus creator Dave Sim is just one of many who have has sung the praises of the comic in the past.

Talking specifically about War Toys, Tom from the Gosh London comic shop feels Richard and artist Moritat have brought (the war) to life in vivid, gory detail, "bringing about some of the series' greatest thrills to date.

"Yes, it's the final issue in the series, but I've just been enjoying it so much that it deserves this last shot at being spotlighted."

In the concluding issue of the mini, even in the face of blistering resistance, it seems that nothing can stop MAPPO's advance across Scandinavia. But as hero Hip Flask comes face to face with the last vestiges of humanity in the frozen Scandinavian wastes, he discovers that only the dead see the end of warfare.

Read a five-page preview of Elephantmen: War Toys #3

Free Comic Book day

Tomorrow is Free Conic Book Day worldwide and your local comic shop may well be supporting it. A free comic featuring Dan Dare from Virgin Comics is just one of the many offerings.

Find out if your ocal comic shop is taking part using this store locator on the Free Comic Day web site (You'll need to do a specific search for towns outside the US and Canada).

The annual event is the perfect opportunity to introduce your friends and family to the many worlds of wonder available at your local comic book store. From super-heroes to slice-of-life to action/adventure and beyond, Free Comic Book Day has a comic book for everyone! Free comics being given away this year include a special Simpsons Comic, All Star Superman and a Stranded/Dan Dare flip book from Virgin Comics.

Click here for the full list!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Join Stargate


You can keep your Grand Theft Auto, people. Stargate Worlds, the massively multiplayer online role playing game from new publisher FireSky, is now taking registrations for closed beta at www.StargateWorlds.com.

The closed beta is an invitation-only test of the upcoming science fiction MMORPG and invitations will be sent out this spring and summer as the design team ramps up the numbers for testing.

The select group of beta testers will provide feedback to the development team about their game experience while also providing vital insight into the performance of the servers. The closed beta will begin with a small core of gamers and gradually expand as more functionality is added. Beta testers will experience Stargate Worlds alongside the developers who also will be playing the game.

"A game is nothing without players. We're fired up to finally get our game in the hands of the community," said Dan Elggren, Stargate Worlds studio head. "We're at the point where we need external testers to take Stargate Worlds to the finish line. Our devoted fans have helped guide us for more than two years through our forums. Together, we're going to craft a balanced, polished, and most of all, fun game."

Testers will be the first to step through the Stargate for a super-sized sci-fi adventure, to test characters use of weapons, explore dozens of worlds from ancient civilizations to high tech planets and solve the mysteries conjured by a galaxy-spanning story based on the award-winning Stargate television series

Stargate Worlds is scheduled for launch in the winter of 2008.

• For more information, visit www.StargateWorlds.com

Daily Mirror's Jane on DVD

One of the more obscure titles in our British Comics on Film list has just been released on DVD.

Odeon Entertainment have released the 1949 B-movie The Adventures of Jane which is based on the Daily Mirror 's Jane comic strip. The film stars Christabel Leighton-Porter, the model that artist Norman Pett used as the basis for Jane in his drawings, and who also features in Andy Saunder's factual book, Jane A Pin-Up At War. The DVD also includes the police thriller Murder at 3AM.

Anyone concerned, or alternatively gleeful, at the thought of seeing Jane/Christabel "in all her glory" should be aware that the nearly 60 year old movie only carries a PG certificate.

Buy The Adventures of Jane from amazon.co.uk
Buy the book Jane: A Pin-Up At War from amazon.co.uk

downthetubes upgraded!

The main downthetubes site featuring comic creator interviews, a guide to writing comics, comics links, a comics events guide, the Really Heavy Greatcoat archive and more has just switched to a new server and the transfer may take a few hours to bed in - please let us know if you have any problems with the site or find any missing images. Thanks.

The upgrade should mean the site will run much faster and gives us freedom to expand... Do not be alarmed by this plan. We mean you no harm. Heh.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Comics on My Radio

How do cartoonists choose the words for their speech bubbles? And - although we call them "speech" bubbles or balloons - how close are they to real speech?

The language of cartoons, comics and graphic novels was the subject of BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth this week, and the ever entertaining writer and poet Michael Rosen began his journey in Bloomsbury, central London with a visit to the Cartoon Museum. From there, he covered the comics form from James Gillray to Steve Bell via Punch and the Beano, joined along the way by the Museum's curator, Anita O'Brien, and Guardian cartoonist and graphic novelist, Martin Rowson.

Also in the programme are the creator of Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds, and some of the next generation of cartoonists now pushing their wares at Camden Market with the help of London Underground comics: Oli Smith, Alex Fitch (of resonance FM) and David Baillie.

• The episode will be available to "Listen Again" for the next few days.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Bulletproof Launches!

New UK-based comic book publisher Bulletproof Comics has announced the launch of its updated website and the release of its first issue # 0.

"It's certainly taken longer than we expected," said Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Matt Yeo, "but it's great to finally launch our new-look site and put the finishing touches to our 16-page, black & white, Bulletproof #0 sampler."

Originally launched as a standalone comics site a few years ago, Bulletproof Comics was set up to showcase and promote the work of up-and-coming British creative talent. The site contains material from new writers, artists and creators as well as work from established industry professionals.

"We had a 'soft launch' for our first printed comic book last year in the form of our 80-page, black & white anthology, Bulletproof #1, containing work from the likes of Steve Yeowell, Alan Grant, Mike Perkins, Garen Ewing and more," said Yeo. "The online response was great, so we pushed forward with a website redesign, whilst simultaneously putting together issue #0 and the forthcoming Bulletproof #2."

"We're intending to make Bulletproof #2 as exciting as our launch issue, and it'll be another 80-page monster of a comic, featuring our usual mix of genre strips from superheroes, sci-fi and fantasy to adventure, crime and slapstick humour."

One of the strips planned for the issue is an episode of the SF series Ex Astris, created by Mike Nicoll, with a script from downthetubes webmaster John Freeman.

"Beyond that we have a number of mini-series and one-shots in the works, as well as more exciting products due later this year."

"There's just such a huge wealth of creative comic book talent in the UK that struggles to reach a wider audience, and that's where we step in," Yeo said. "We want to provide online and print-based platforms to make it easier for creators to get their work out to the rest of the world."

"It's a really exciting time for us, and there are some amazing comic book creations and creators ready to be unveiled, so expect more news from Bulletproof Comics soon!"

Bulletproof issue #0 and Bulletproof #1 are on sale now from the Bulletproof Comics Online Store.

• To find out more about Bulletproof Comics, check out: www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk

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• Got a British Comics News Story? E-mail downthetubes!

• Publishers: please contact for information on where to post review copies and other materials: editor@downthetubes.net

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