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Saturday, 3 November 2007

In Memoriam: Manny Curtis

Artist David Lloyd reports on the death of cartoonist Manny Curtis on his web site.

"Another great cartoonist of my acquaintance passed away earlier this month," he says of the Enfield-based creator, one of the first to have a comic strip featuring black characters in prominent roles in Britain.

"[Manny was] not a comic strip artist like Phil Gascoine," David recalls, "though he worked commonly in the three-frame newspaper strip format - but a gag man. He drew reams of single gags as well as creating many series of three-framers."

Manny Curtis was born 23 October 1924 in London, England. In 1942, at the age of 18, he was called up into the British Army, and he fought in the Far East until the end of the Second World War in 1945 After leaving the army, Manny took up cartooning for a living. He worked for most British national newspapers, and several magazines (including Playboy), and created the first mainstream 'black' cartoon character.

"He was the kind of cartoonist who first got me interested in the whole field of cartooning when I was a kid poring over the dozens of single gag cartoons that used to fill tabloid newspapers then, which were all about files in cakes, cheese straws, and vengeful wives with rolling pins," says David. "It was the simple yet powerful line of such drawings that got me started in this job that I ended up doing. And Manny was a master of that style of work.

"He was also a staunch defender of his profession and it's standard of craftsmanship, and a pugilist in debate."

In an article for the Big Lottery Fund web site in 2005, Manny recalled his voyage to Burma with his usual good humour.

He returned to his South Lancashire Regiment in 1944 after a fortnight's home leave in Roman Road, Bow, East London, he was sure he'd be in Italy in no time.

But after he boarded the giant P&O liner Strathaird off Greenock, he noticed that the Indian crew were a bit tight-lipped about destination details. "I could well understand their reluctance to tell me how long it took to get to Italy, because security was a big thing then," recalls Manny, who now lives in Enfield. "They must all have been briefed to say that we were going to Bombay, and I appreciated that. But when we sailed through Port Said and into the Red Sea I began to have doubts about ever getting to Italy."

After hospitalisation with malaria in India, Manny Curtis served for the next year in Burma, taking part in many fierce battles and seeing many comrades die. After he was returned to Britain in November 1945 he suffered a near-fatal bout of cerebral meningitis. After his recovery, he served in an army training centre near Warrington until he was de-mobbed in 1947. (Manny's recollections of his time in Burma are posted here, on the burmastar web site.)

Manny features in this video from Word of Mouth Films on YouTube, talking about the origins of his comic strip Algie and Fred, which ran in Tidbits magazine and was the first modern humour strip in the UK to regularly feature black characters.

"He had a long life and his legacy was laughter," David Lloyd remembers. "We should all be so lucky."

View some of Manny's work on Artizans

Comica rounds off with British creator events

Comica in London is coming to a close - with 5 and 6th November evenings polishing off this year's festival at the ICA in The Mall.

On Saturday, Nick Abadzis launches his Laika graphic novel about the world's first living creature in space, a cosmonaut dog - and Abouet & Oubrerie from Paris talk about their African teen romance AYA. More info here

On Sunday, there's a whole afternoon from 2.30 to 7.00pm on British comics, tying in with Comics Britannia - girls' comics with guests Stella Duffy, Nina Myskow from Jackie and more; War Comics with experts Steve Holland and David Roach; and the IPC Revolution, Tammy to 2000AD with Pat Mills, Kevin O'Neill, Gerry Finley-Day and Ramon Sola.

Many of you will want to catch the Mart on Sunday, so you could go there first from noon and maybe come by later to iCA. You can also catch Comica Comiket, the small press fair which runs till 7.00pm, free to ICA members or for the price of day admission - £3 or £2 concessions. This gets you into the ICA bar, signings and fair but not the talks.

• Lots of info here:
• Booking for ICA here:

What Editors Really Think

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been having an email discussion with a few creators about the Joy of Pitching -- that dark art of trying to sell a script to an editor.

For some years now, downtheubes has had a guide to writing comics on its pages, but just for fun, here's my take on interpreting rejection responses.

If you're outright rejected don't give up: an editor has several levels of response. (What they really think is in brackets)

- Thank you, but no thank you. Here are our guidelines for submitting stories.
(Don't write in crayon - and yes, I did once get a pitch in crayon).

- This is great, but it's not what we're looking for. Have you actually read our top title, BLUG BLADDER BEAST AND CHUMS?
(If you're submitting stories, read a company's output first).

- This is great, but it's not what we're looking for right now.
(We like your stuff, it made us laugh/cry/scared us, but we're not printing that kind of book, but if you wrote something that was our kind of book we'd look at it)

- This is great. With a bit more polish, we could buy this
(We're giving you the chance to re-write it but if you screw up we won't ask again)

- Have you got time to come to the office or chat?
(We like the work, we want to employ you, let's see if you're amenable to us re-writing it, find out if you are sane, and how mad we make you are when we re-write)

- This is great, send us an invoice, it's being drawn by Brian Bolland as we speak. Would you like to write a 12-issue mini series about anything you like?
(This never happens)

Of course, these days some editors are more direct and say exactly what they think, but I've always felt a little common courtesy goes a long way -- after all, do you really want to lose a reader by being rude to them, especially an active one who likes your book so much they want to be part of it?

One final more serious point. As an editor, I always found it easier to comment on a script if I saw it drawn -- I recall showing some of my stuff to Alan Grant that way back at one of the London UK Comic Art Conventions and he said it was easier than reading a script. That's why fanzines are such a valuable way of crafting skills, and these days, the additional editing being done on the best of these is really paying off.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Cosmogenesis Trailers Released

Ramping up its publicity for a 550 page collection of Adam Grose and Tony Suleri's epic SF comic Cosmogenesis: The Chronicles of Quongo, Clown Press have just released several video trailers for the book via YouTube.

The book -- a collection of the (completely overhauled and re-edited) strips from the galaxy-spanning self-published series -- charts the rise of simian Quongo from unwitting adventurer to possible messiah. Using the galactic setting, compared to Star Wars in its richness, the narrative explores the writer's interest of grand cycles of time, numerology, and the recurring motif of mythological lone saviours prevalent in many cultures.

"The story is set within another time and place, in a galaxy not so far removed from our own, yet resides in a higher dimensional reality," says Adam. "The premise comes from an idea that there are many civilisations out there in the Milky Way, yet we can not see them, because our reality is on a lower plane of vibration.

"...The whole story reveals a galaxy coming to the end of a great cycle of time. A time which would bring about a shift in consciousness in each individual and bring about the return of 'Those of Many.'"

The story is an incredible epic, and the collection is certain to attract plenty of interest.

• The Cosmogenesis collection will be available soon from all good bookshops priced £19.95, and from the Clown Press web site
Preview pages
Read more about the creation of Cosmogenesis on Adam's blog

Read a 2005 interview with Adam and Tony on the Engine Comics web site

More cuts to kids TV

Disturbing news from the BBC. SaveKidsTV reports CBBC is being required to make 5 per cent cuts over the next five years -- a drop from an annual spend of £108 million now to £98 million in 2012.

As a result of this and the lack of in house commissions, one in five jobs in the department are likely to go. Richard Deverell, Controller CBBC, announced that fewer programmes would have to be made but that there would be no reduction in quality or originality. Programmes would simply need to be capable of sustaining multiple repeats.

At a time when OFCOM has highlighted the decline in indigenous kid's programmes and noted that the BBC is the major provider of what remains, SKTV says this is alarming. The role of the BBC as the bastion of PSB provision and the setter of standards is crucial. This seems to be the wrong signal to be sending at this time.

“Save Kids’ TV is an organisation that we shouldn’t need," says the campaign's patron, author Philip Pullman. "We shouldn’t need it, because we should be able to trust the television channels to create and broadcast excellent programmes for our children, programmes which reflect the lives of modern British children in the society they know as well as exploring the imaginative, the funny and the fascinating.

"The fact that such programmes are almost impossible to make today is not due to any lack of talent; it’s due to the dogmatic insistence that profit is more important than anything else, and that cutting costs and increasing profits must prevail over every other consideration. But there are things that cannot be measured by financial yardsticks, and one of these is the well-being of children.

"Children need the best of everything, and that includes the best of television – not the cheapest. Save Kids’ TV is working to make sure they get it."

• There is a Save Kids TV petition on the Downing Street website. SaveKidsTV needs a lot more signatures so please do what you can to spread the word and get people to sign up.

More Sound of Drowning released

Comic creator Paul O'Connell, creator of cult comic book The Sound of Drowning, has a brand new issue (#10! double figures! ) out now.

"It's a non-linear comic book inspired by those kids 'Choose Your Own Adventure' stories," he says, "co-written with Laura O'Callaghan-White and just a dash of Harry sauce."

Paul, whose "Air Diana" strip was one of 30 shortlisted in the 2007 ROK Comics Humour Competition, also has some new strips on the soundofdrowning web site.

Paul will be selling the new comic and other bits and pieces in the small presss market at the London ICA Comica event, curated by Paul Gravett.

Read and interview with Paul on Geeks of Doom

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Ian Gibson Column: mobile phones and Dan Dare

Renowned 'Judge Dredd' and 'Halo Jones' comic-book artist Ian Gibson looks at one possible future for comics - as downloads on mobile phones, revealing his Saturday Times strip "Annie Droid" is now available via ROK Comics. He also talks about Virgin's new Dan Dare...

read more | digg story

The Flying Friar arrives

Thursday 1st November is All Saints Day in the UK. What better date to choose for The Flying Friar to return to print, now in full colour, from Markosia?

Created by British gossip columnist Rich Johnston and German illustrator Thomas Nachlik, The Flying Friar, which we first reported on last year, tells the true story of a 17th century Italian saint mixed with superhero myth. A man who discovers he can fly, only to be investigated by the Inquisition and the Church he loves so much. And his best friend, and grand nephew of Martin Luther, Lux Luther, becomes his worst enemy. A story of religion versus science, friend versus friend, of greed, corruption, power and superpowers.

And it all happened 400 years ago.

Giuseppe Desa was born in Copertino, in the heel of Italy, in 1603. Later, as St. Joseph of Copertino, he became famous as the "Flying Monk" because of his remarkable levitations during ecstatic states.

As The Times reported last year, when a black and white edition of the book was released, the story of St Joseph, today the patron saint of air stewards and pilots, bears a startling resemblance to modern fictional heroes such as Batman or Spider-Man. Joseph Desa was initially an outcast, born into such extreme poverty in 1603 that he was delivered in a shed. He seemed to be a simpleton and was nicknamed The Gaper because of his habit of wandering around open mouthed.

“The tradition of superheroes goes back to Greek mythology and the Bible,” Mr Johnston told The Times. “Modern superheroes follow on from that, although they tend to come from science rather than religion.”

The Flying Friar has been described by Warren Ellis as "Smallville by way of The Name of the Rose", while news site Aint It Cool News called it "beautiful, beautiful stuff", and Newsarama described it as "one of the best and, given our current American culture's fear of offending anyone when it comes to discussing religion, ballsiest Elseworlds stories that DC never published."

While the UK have the book for All Saints' Day, it is expected in North America in two or three weeks' time. Until then, there's a preview of the comic, with colour by Ian Sharman, and lettering by Thomas Mauer, available on

The Flying Friar is published by Markosia Comics and will be available in all good comic shops. If your nearest shop doesn't have a copy, give them the order code: AUG073845 and they should be able to supply you with a copy shortly.

More about the history of the Flying Friar

Hippo Fairy Tale in the works

Active Images, the innovative US comics company run by former Marvel UK talent Richard Starkings, has begun promoting an unusual fairy tale – starring hippopotamus hero, Hip Flask.

Captain Stoneheart and the Truth Fairy Hardcover by Ben 10 creator Joe Kelly and X-Men artist Chris Bachalo ships in January 2008. The 80 page book is described as "a grim but beautiful tale of Broken Bones and Broken Hearts, featuring characters created for Richard Starkings' Elephantmen series."

This special oversized hardcover edition features Bachalo's pencil artwork, Joe Kelly's full script and a special Audio CD reading of the story.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

'Boring' writer becomes bestseller

Actor, director and cult guru, Kevin Smith now has another accolade to add to his name, as astonishing sales of his new book My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith (out now from Titan Books) have made him a New York Times Bestselling Author!

Busy publicising the book in the US and UK, while writing his upcoming feature, Zack and Miri, Smith’s reaction to his new Bestseller status was met with his usual humour, as he commented, “that’s something I never expected to be.

"I figured I’d be thin before I’d ever make it on that list.”

Smith’s new book provides an in-your-face exposé of his day-to-day life over the past two years, covering the production and release of Clerks II, battling the heroin addiction of his friend Jason Mewes, his work opposite Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard, and is a bizarre and wonderful array of daily trials and tribulations, telling all in his usual candid, heartfelt and irreverent way.

Murky Depths

A quick plug now for Murky Depths, a quarterly anthology of top quality speculative fiction, including comics, with sprinklings of horror and fantasy that push the boundaries of science fiction. The first issue was released a couple of months ago but the editor has just shoved its existence under our nose, so we're obligingly giving it a plug on Hallowe'en (review will come later).

Each story in the magazine is complimented with its own unique artwork and the title also features articles that cut across the genres and mixed disciplines add authority, humour and maybe a little controversy.

The first issue features several short stories including State Your Name, a short story by the brilliant Jon Courtenay Grimwood (illustrated by Denis Pacher), and four comic strips:
Death and the Maiden, Part I by Richard Calder, The Other Woman by Chris Lynch (art Dark Smith), Empathy by Luke Cooper and I Bleed Light by Ed Norden. There's also an interview with Monkeys With Machineguns publisher Chris Lynch.

If you are thinking of sending Murky Depths a submission, read their Submission Guidelines first since, if these are not followed they may reject your story unread. Not only does Murky Depths publish established authors but also encourages and welcomes new writers.

• A single issue of Murky Depths costs £6.99 and you can buy it from their web site.

ComicSpace and Webcomics Nation announce merger

ComicSpace community creator Josh Roberts and WebComics Nation creator Joey Manley have announced the merger of various properties into a single corporate entity.

When the dust settles, ComicSpace, Webcomics Nation, TalkAboutComics and will be rolled up into one big super site called ComicSpace.

"I realized several months ago that my days were numbered as a one-man operation," Josh explained in a bulletin on his ComicSpace page. "ComicSpace and simply require more resources than I have to give (both financially and personally). Thanks to ComicSpace's fast and furious launch late last year, I've fielded several offers to partner, merge, even sell ComicSpace. But none of those offers felt right. Some of them felt very, very wrong.

"Enter Joey Manley. For those of you unfamiliar with Joey, he's the guy behind,,,,,, -- and a few others.

"A couple months ago, Joey and I started talking... [and] ... by the end of the conversation we had pretty much decided to merge our properties into a single cohesive super site.

"We were excited. We were pumped. Then we remembered we didn't have any money.

"Enter E-Line Ventures, a New Jersey-based ‘double bottom line’ early-stage investment firm (they look at both the financial and social impact of their investments). We like these guys a lot. They're smart. They take us out to nice dinners. And they have lots of money they want to throw at us. We plan to use that money to facilitate the merger, hire programmers and develop wicked new features for readers and creators."

"E-Line has provided a blueprint for making that dream come true, without our having to sell out our core beliefs," says Joey Manley, whose first notable website was the Webby-winning, which he helped start in 1995. (He's also the author of one novel, The Death of Donna-May Dean, published in 1991). "We’ve been working with them for what seems like a year or two now (but has really only been a few months), to bring our vision for offering the most useful, empowering and engaging services for digital comic creators and readers to life.

"The folks at E-Line not only understood and support this vision, they have complimentary skills to help us make it happen."

"No one panic!" urges Josh, who has patiently built ComicSpace into a major creator hub on the web. "Nothing's going to change today, or tomorrow, or even next week. This process is still in its beginning stages, but we're hoping to have the new site up and running within a couple months. The new site will retain all of the functionality of the existing sites, so you'll be able to do everything you can do now, plus a whole lot more."

Modern Tales, Girlamatic, serializer and Graphic Smash) are also covered by the agreement but will continue to operate as separate brands, with their own domains "although they will gets lots of cool new features thanks to our increased development resources," Josh explains.

Read Joey's announcement about the merger on talkaboutcomics

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Spaced goes Stateside

UK TV trade magazine Broadcast reports US broadcaster Fox has ordered a pilot of a US version of Nick Pegg's Spaced, which revolves around a young man and woman who pose as a couple in order to rent a cheap apartment.

Created by Jessica Stevenson and Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz duo Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright the cult sitcom famed for its science fiction, videogame and horror references, and is available on DVD, starred Stevenson and Pegg alongside Nick Frost and Mark Heap, and ran for two seasons on Channel 4 between 1999 and 2001.

Former Will and Grace writer Adam Barr will adapt the show for the US and the pilot will be produced by boutique studio Wonderland Sound and Vision (producers of The O.C. and Supernatural), Warner Brothers TV and Granada.

There's no word as yet on Simon Pegg's involvement, if any, but with his upcoming role as Scotty in the next Star Trek movie (as reported in Variety), Pegg is likely to be in Hollywood when the pilot is shot.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Titan gets The Spirit

Adding yet another official, in-depth companion to its catalogue, Titan Books has announced it acquired worldwide rights to a deluxe making-of book for the Lionsgate and Odd Lot Entertainment production of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, due to be released in 2009.

Will Eisner’s classic comic character is set to make the leap to the silver screen in a spectacular new live-action movie, written and directed by Frank Miller (Sin City, 300). Lionsgate and Odd Lot Entertainment are production partners on the film, produced by Deborah Del Prete and Gigi Pritzker of Odd Lot Entertainment and Michael Uslan of Batfilm Productions Inc. Batfilm co-founder Benjamin Melniker and Steven Maier are executive producers. Odd Lot's Linda McDonough and Batfilm's F.J. DeSanto serve as co-producers.

Lionsgate is distributing Will Eisner’s The Spirit in the US and UK.

Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, colour photos, storyboards and production art, plus the full screenplay, publication is slated for December 2008, ahead of the movie’s release on 16 January 2009.

Considered by many to be the "Citizen Kane of comic books", presumed dead, young detective Denny Colt dons the blue mask and suit of The Spirit to fight crime in his hometown of Central City, using nothing but his wits and fists. With Miller at the helm, the movie promises a loyal but dark take on the well-loved character. “I intend to be extremely faithful to the heart and soul of the material, but it won’t be nostalgic," he told Variety. "It will be much scarier than people expect.”

Gabriel Macht will take the title role of The Spirit, with Samuel L. Jackson as his arch-nemesis The Octopus, and Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson as alluring femmes fatales Sand Saref and Silken Floss.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Complete Peanuts

I came across another comics gem in one of our two local Waterstones this weekend, just on sale in the UK -- Charles Schultz Peanuts are being collected chronologically in some classy but reasonably priced hardback editions.

These really nice little books with foreword and then straight to the strips - and from day one in 1950, those strips are gems.

Published here by Canongate, a slew of the collections is being released, taking Peanuts fans right from Schultz first strips in 1950 through to 1970 - the last in the first phase of the collection due next May.

For anyone who's a fan, or a cartoonist interested in seeing how Schultz world-famous strip developed these are well worth tracking down. Quite apart from anything else, the strips are a pure delight from the get go, exuding both energy and charm. Highly recommended.

Mad World

Just occasionally, all the hard work the team do here at downthetubes gets some welcome praise from our many readers that encourages us all to keep plugging away at the site. Several indie comic creators have kindly written in recently, thanking us for plugging their books and, in some cases, drawing them to the attention of bigger publishers and getting them on the ladder to wider exposure -- no easy task in today's comics industry, and we're happy to have played a small part in anyone's success.

Mad World panelOur latest thank you came in this weekend from one Mark Rush, who tells us our web site gave him some guidance on creating comics which he's taken to heart and is now busy with a webcomic, Mad World, a dark tale with elements from 28 Days Later and, he says, just like something out of The Twilight Zone.

Drawn by Wes Huffor, this is a comic about just how quickly the world can change when an unnatural disaster destroys everything that you know. How would you act if it was truly every man for himself? Would you stick by your morals and principles or let your inner savage out to survive?

In the first chapter of the story, now online, the story follows Philip Moore as he struggles to find his family.

Mark's script is strong with good "voices" and pacing: there are some storytelling issues (some pages have confusing panel layouts that lead the reader in the wrong direction on a page) but the art by Huffor is accomplished and broodingly appropriate to the tale. If you like your comics dark and chilling, check this webcomic out.

Joe Colquhoun Article In B&MC 288

Book and Magazine Collector issue 288 continues David Ashford and Norman Wright's Great British Comic Artists series with a twelve page article on Joe Colquhoun, consisting of ten pages of mainly colour illustrations backed up with a two page Price Guide.

Joe Colquhoun may be best remembered now as the artist on Charley's War in Battle, and this issue does tie in nicely with the release of the fourth Charley's War book Blue's Story, but the article also covers his earlier work including both writing and drawing Roy of the Rovers in Tiger.

Book and Magazine Collector 288 costs £3.40 and is available from newsagents or via their website.

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