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Friday, 12 June 2009

Tube Surfing: One Man Lord of the Rings, Manga Cross Stitch and Space Hoppers!

• Heading to Edinburgh's Fringe later this summer? Perhaps to catch up with Kev Sutherland and the Falsetto Sock Company, who are sure to be there? Then you might also be interested in a new show from Canadian actor Charles Ross, who first made an impact on the Edinburgh Fringe when his debut show, One Man Star Wars Trilogy, which was a surprise sell-out hit of the 2006 event. He's back this year with his equally hilarious follow-up One Man Lord Of The Rings in which he recreates the enchanting world of Middle-Earth, armed with nothing more than a pair of elbow pads and his outrageous imagination, at the E4 Udderbelly, E4 Udderbelly's Pasture, from 6-16th August 2009. More info: (Photo: Lisa Hebden)

• With the nominations collected, the ballets are about to open for the 2008 Eagle Awards, the comics industry's longest-running awards. Co-founded in 1976 by Mike Conroy, editor of Comics International and author of new Ilex Press release War Comics: A Graphic History (see news story), the awards offer UK comics fans a unique opportunity to nominate their own choices and vote for their pick of bunch in each category. The award categories cover comics and creators, as well as comics-related titles. Vote for nominees in the Eagles Awards here

• Via numerous upset comic creators, worrying news appeared in The Sun reporting that one-time 2000AD artist Ron Smith, 80, was in court over alledged child abuse. We can now report that at 3.00pm today the jury unanimously found him not guilty. Guildford Crown Court confirmed the details

• To quote blogger Giles Poitras, "Oh god it was only a matter of time. And who else but the wonderful Helen McCarthy could do a book called Manga Cross-Stitch." Who else indeed! Helen McCarthy, author of ILEX's 500 Essential Anime Movies and many titles on Japanese manga and anime, is the UK's leading expert in this area, and now she has turned her hand to teaching how to incorporate the skills of needlecraft with this popular Japanese graphic art form. Manga Cross-Stitch, available from ILEX, will be out soon, but in the meantime the Japan Foundation is presenting a lecture and workshop held by Helen McCarthy, on Wednesday 1 July, in London. Places are limited so get your tickets quick, as there will a chance to stitch your own manga design on the day.

• (via Bear Alley): A number of British creators have made the shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards 2009, amongst them Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (best novel (and best non-fiction for his blog) and best artist respectively) and numerous others in the Best Comic/Graphic Novel section.

• This sounds fun: CBBC has commissioned a new science series, Space Hoppers, an interplanetary adventure series featuring Professor Brian Cox. Using animation and CGI and experiments, the series investigate what one might need to go on vacation in outer space and the extreme environments in the Solar System. Set to launch in 2010, which happens also to be the BBC's Year of Science, the seven episode series is produced in conjunction with BBC Science's series Seven Wonders Of The Solar System, also hosted by Cox.

• The British Cartoon Archive, based at the University of Kent's Templeman Library, recentlylaunched a new website and is now featuring a gallery of old Andy Capp cartoons by Reg Smythe.

• Tim Pilcher, author of Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, has been talking to Salacious Scribbles about the relationships between erotica, porn and the comics genre; how Volume 2 was stopped by Australian customs; and a whole lot more with Louise Bak, poet and radio show co-host, for men's magazine Toro. In Tim's own words: "Good erotic comics have to abide by the same basic rules that any comic book genre has to. That is, good story pacing, believable/ empathetic characters, an involving storyline and quality design and page layout." Erotic Comics is a guide though the talent and artwork of this much maligned art form. Read the interview here

Millidge on Comic Book Design

When we think of comics it's all too easy to reduce them to pictures and word balloons. But a good comic also relies on effective page layout, framing, point of view, story pacing, spacing, lettering and many other techniques that - paradoxically - must remain invisible to the lay reader.

Written by award-winning comics writer, artist and editor Gary Spencer Millidge, ILEX Press Comic Book DesignComic Book Design, which recently went on sale, lays bare the design processes and unique grammar behind this art form.

Using hundreds of examples of artwork from some of the biggest and most-respected names in comics, Gary lifts the lid on the techniques and ideas that underpin the greatest comics, providing a fascinating insight for readers, writers and artists alike.

"This book is something that I consider to be one of my major works," enthuses Gary on his blog. "Quite apart from writing approximately 40,000 words on the subject, I had to research, locate, select and scan several hundred appropriate images in an attempt to illustrate the points I was trying to make. Packaged in a lavish 10 ix 11 inch format
it contains 160 full-colour pages and takes a design-oriented view of the creation of comic books, strip-mining the depth and breadth of comics history for its example illustrations.

"It's not exactly a how-to book, although there are some nice examples of behind-the-scenes materials," he continues. "It doesn't include anything much about drawing or anatomy or perspective. It's more about how comics work, how creators consciously or unconsciously design a character, a story, a page, a panel; and how it all comes together to form the unique visual storytelling that only comics can offer. There are sections on lettering and colour and publication design itself, and each section is punctuated by a designer spotlight on creators like Brian Wood and Chris Ware."

Comic Book Design is published by Ilex Press in the UK and Watson-Guptill in the US and should be available from any good comic or book retailer, in-store or online.

In Review: Paragon 4

comic_paragon4w.jpgJust released is UK indie title Paragon 4, edited by Dave Candish, a 32-page anthology comic featuring the work of Stephen Prestwood, Dave and Alan Candlish, The Emperor, Terry Wilkinson and Paul Harrison-Davies.

It's an eclectic mix, with "We're on Our Way to Wembley", a humourous "soap-styled" strip drawn by Dave Candish, set in a club bar as six Geordie football fans prepare to head off a major match, rubbing shoulders with a fun update of Indian legend, "Battle Ganesh", drawn by Prestwood. The issue rounds out with "Undertow Part 2", again by Candlish, drawn in style that reminds me of Rian Hughes' work posing the question: just how do you kill a man who is already dead?

Combining a soap opera-styled strip with all-out action, followed by a strip that evokes memories of Twin Peaks (particularly the odd-looking dwarf that turns up) and Alias is the kind of thing only an indie publisher would risk. Of the three, Battle Ganesh, up against some nasty-lookig crab men, is the most 'mainstream' and seems to have proven the most popular strip if the Paragon web site is anything to go by. (I loved this interchange as elephantine-looking Ganesh more human-looking parents arrive: "They don't look very trunky"; "Long story. I had an accident as a baby". That's one way of condesning a massive part of Indian mythology!). "Battle Ganesh" makes mincemeat of the more po-face approach to Indian myth taken by defunct Virgin Comics, and definitely has none of the worthy look and feel of Indian publisher Raj Comics adaptations of the stories!

Art-wise, "Battle Ganesh" by Prestwood (creator of "Hardboiled Hitler", which featured in Violent! Comic) is the most pleasing on the eye: I enjoyed Candish's simpler line and storytelling style on "We're on Our Way to Wembley", but I think he's still developing this style, but I don't think it will have as wide an appeal.

The issue features a fab Battle Ganesh cover, drawn by Dave and coloured by Steven Denton (better known for his work for Massacre for Boys and Futurequake) and also includes an article on forgotten hero, actor Buster Crabbe (the original Flash Gordon) and two ace pin-ups by Paul Harrison Davies, of which his Peter Cushing is my favourite.

If there are rough edges to the issue, they come in the editing of the article about Buster Crabbe, which could have done with another sub, but any comic that features Paul Harrison-Davies is all right by me!

• Paragon Issue 4 is available for a cheque for £3 sent to Dave Candlish, 5 Cedarway, Whitehills Tyne& Wear, NE10 8LD - or you can pay by PayPal.

Read and interview with Steven Denton

Free Leeds Manga Event

event_manga_leeds0609.jpgThe Breeze International Youth Festival, comics festival Thought Bubble and the Leeds Young Peoples Film Festival have partnered up to host a special free two-day Manga event later this month.

Taking place at Leeds Travelling Man comic shop and the Hyde Park Picture House over Sunday 28th and Monday 29th June, places for the Sunday event are already limited, so if you're interested see below for contact details. Here's a run down of both days events:

Sunday 28th June: How to Draw Manga Creatures Workshop with the amazing Yishan Li, plus Anime Screenings
The Travelling Man Coffee Bar

New to manga art and want to learn the basics? Yishan Li will show you how! Or are you a more experienced manga artist? Bring your portfolio and get some advice!

Creature art from this workshop will be exhibited at the Hyde Park on Monday 29th June and a winner will be picked to receive a special prize!

12.10pm Anime Screening FLCL

1.00pm How to Draw Manga Workshop

3.00pm Anime Screenings: Samurai 7/Slayers

Moday 29th June @ Hyde Park Picture House

5.00pm Cosplay Competition/artwork display

6.00pm Surprise Anime Screening

8.00pm Winners announced & price ceremony

The Hyde Park event is free to Breeze card holders, £1 for adults.

Contact 0113 2436461 or email

Bear Alley Announces Cursitor Doom, Phantom Patrol Collections


Top British comics archivist Steve Holland has been hinting at it for months now, but he's finally announced the first titles publishing limited edition collections of some old, classic British comics under the imprint of Bear Alley Books: Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol, the latter graced with a stunning wraparound cover by none other than Chris Weston ('rough' version above).

Originally published in the pages of Smash! in 1969-70, Cursitor Doom is being reprinted in full for the first time. With a new cover from John Ridgway, the book features art by Eric Bradbury and Geoff Campion from scripts by Ken Mennell, M. Scott Goodall & Christopher Lowder.

The Phantom Patrol features art by Gerry Embleton and a wraparound cover by Chris Weston. Both books are due to be published in August.

"Bear Alley Books has been born out of a desire to put some classic British comic strips back into print," says Steve. "There has been no tradition here for reprinting strips as albums as there is across Europe and, increasingly, in America. Almost none of the strips I remember with great affection from my youth are in print. I've had the good fortune to have been involved in many of the reprints that have appeared - The Steel Claw, The Spider, Trigan Empire, Rick Random, the war libraries collections - but there are dozens of others I'd love to see collected that no major publisher would consider. There are sound commercial reasons for this so you can't blame them. Still, it's frustrating.

"In 2008, shortly after leaving Look and Learn, I had the notion of publishing some titles myself. It took around 18 months before I could commit to it but here we are in June 2009, a matter of weeks before we publish our first couple of books."

While Steve is a huge fan of long-running strips such as The Steel Claw, he says his choice of titles, for now, are based on material that can be collected in single volumes. "I want to put Bear Alley Books on a firm foundation before I even think of tackling some of the strips I would really love to have on my shelves. The first couple of choices have been books that are complete in a single volume and if something requires two volumes, I'll make sure that I have the two books completed before the first is even offered.

"I find it hugely disappointing to start buying a series only to have it cancelled half way through, so I'll try my best not to put anyone through that. Once I've established to my own satisfaction that I can get books out in a timely fashion, I'll start looking at longer-running storylines."

First Titles Due in August


Taking about the titles, Cursitor Doom, says Steve, is a genuine occult adventure and danger. "People died as a series of predicted disasters occurs and Cursitor Doom has to admit that he cannot save them—the future is already written and he cannot change it. This in itself was unusual for British boys’ comics where the hero was always self-assured and expected to save the day. Doom, by contrast, was not always so sure of himself.

"Doom was unique in other ways, too. His look was unlike any other hero in British comics and his great bald dome of a head and thin, wide mouth incredibly expressive in the hands of artist Eric Bradbury. Bradbury was responsible for the dark, gloomy style of the strip. No stranger to the potential creepiness of British comics, he had drawn some of the most memorable strips of the 1960s, including the adventures of Maxwell Hawke, Mytek the Mighty and The House of Dolmann.

"Bradbury’s artwork transformed the strip beyond its gothic roots. The dress shirt and cloak was almost certainly inspired by popular horror films, dating back to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula; Doom’s companion, Scarab, taps into the ancient beliefs surrounding ravens, often seen as a bird of ill-omen; and the ancient houses and echoing halls were straight out of gothic horror fiction.

"Cursitor Doom is an occult classic that has only been partly reprinted in the past," Steve enthuses. "The book will include all of Cursitor Doom's original adventures, including two strips from Smash! Annual and a rarely-seen text story first published in Smash! Holiday Special."

Swift-62-04-28-03cr.jpgOf Phantom Patrol, a story in which a group of British soldiers find themselves lost in time, Steve says it's "a superb yarn of a kind that British comics did best. Fast-moving and wildly plotted, the story grows more complex as the patrol battles its way through Egypt and Private Paddy O'Connell finds himself adrift in time with a police trooper from the future. Flitting from past to future, will the Sarge and his men manage to escape back to now... and, given the situation they left behind, will they survive even if they do get back?

"When it came to finding a cover artist for The Phantom Patrol, I wanted someone who could tackle anything the strip threw at them," Steve reveals. "Who would be able to draw everything from World War 2 soldiers to Roman legionnaires, from dinosaurs to giant bees, from ancient galleys to futuristic artefacts. The name that came to mind straight away was: Chris Weston."

Chris has been working professionally in comics for over twenty years and has drawn everything from Judge Dredd to The Fantastic Four. Along the way his career has included a huge number of highlights: the 'Indigo Prime' series by John Smith, The Invisibles and The Filth by Grant Morrison, Enemy Ace, The Authority, Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis, Justice Society of America and, most recently, The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski. Chris has also been doing film storyboards for the upcoming post-apocalypse thriller, The Book of Eli, as well as writing and drawing strips for upcoming issues of 2000AD.

"When I received the above illustration, I accused Chris of giving the term cover rough a bad name," says Steve. "I was knocked out: it spoilt my working day when it arrived because I kept going back to look at it. Part of the reason I've pulled my Bear Alley Books blog site together so quickly is so we can follow the progress of Chris's cover as he has a welcome habit of posting regularly on the progress of his strips and illustrations. If you've not visited his website, take a trip over to The Weston Front and take a good look around. You won't regret it.

"I can't wait to see this in colour."

Steve's commitment to the documentation and promotion of British Comics is legendary: here at downthetubes we're very excited by his new imprint and wish him every success.

• The release of the first Bear Alley Books will be limited to 300 copies each. Ordering information for both Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol will be announced soon. Check for the latest information!

Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol © IPC Media

Ten Questions: An Interview with Comic Creator Amy Pearson


Last year, DC Comics Zuda Comics showcased a stunning new adventure strip by hot new comics talent Amy Pearson. Now, the 22-year-old Sussex based artist has started publishing an updated, revamped edition of the strip on its own dedicated web site - - and downtheutbes caught up with her to ask her about the strip...

downthetubes: Briefly, tell us what Mathema is about. How would you pitch it to a comics publisher?

Amy: In Mathema, a mathematician has found a way to copy the skills of the ages - dreaming that everyone should have the gift of magic. But the discovery of Mathema forces those with Natural Born Power into the open, desperate to protect their ancient gift by whatever means necessary...

downthetubes: How did you come up with the story?

Amy: I love my fantasy stories but I'll admit I'm pretty selective about the kind of magic I 'buy-into'. Mathema is built on ideas for a magic system – making this work for me personally has taken a long time in the development. Emery appeared first and generally the rest of the story has been constructed around that.

The time period is important to the magic too. I was really influenced by the sense of discovery alongside interest in illusion as entertainment, also particularly new ideas opposing traditional religious forms.


downthetubes: Is this the first time Mathema has been published?

Amy: Mathema was first online over at Zuda. Being in the October 2008 competition. It finished second, and considering the competition I was very happy with that, but it was encouraging to see how divided some people were about the voting.  It was a great competition and experience, and a privilege to be put along side some really great creators.

Visually, the comic has changed a lot since then, I took on a lot of advice from the pros.  

downthetubes: Why have you chosen to publish on the web rather than in print?

Amy: Publishing the comic online was really the only way to go for me personally; obviously it'd be amazing to see Mathema in print one day(!) but I've never thought to try and sell it. For me it's about telling the story and sharing it with people – the web is the best way to do that.

downthetubes: What’s your background as an artist? How did you get into creating comics?

Amy: After Uni I went straight into a CG job in London as an animator.  I've always had a great interest in illustration as well and decided to try freelancing. Mathema started shortly after I made the change and most of my comic work has come from exposure during the Zuda competition. Changing to comics has been a real learning curve, but I'm really excited about Mathema being told this way.

downthetubes: Do you have any favourite creators or influences?

Amy: I can be pretty eclectic with the kinds of styles I like reading but to focus on influences for Mathema I think a couple of my favourite works are 'La Licorne' and 'Blacksad': the art in these is always an inspiration. On a purely story level it'd be wrong not to mention a personal Lovecraft influence.

downthetubes: What’s the most challenging thing about working on Mathema?

Amy: Patience! I always have remind myself to be very patient when creating any kind of art; there are so many specifics to the way comic art needs to be done this is even more the case for me and Mathema. (I also have to be patient about the story! There's so much of it I know and can't tell anyone about it yet!)

downthetubes: And what’s the best part about working on it?

comic_mathema3_amypw.jpgAmy: Seeing my characters come to life and sharing that with other people.  I'm sure a lot of story tellers will say that they live with their ideas/characters 24/7, and this is true for me. Mathema has quite a few sides to it, I'm really looking forward to bringing these out along the way too.

downthetubes: What one valuable lesson have you learnt creating comics that you apply to your work now?

: Again patience, but more specifically one of the things I've had to work on most is lettering. It was really the weakest point in the old version and a lot of problems have been solved in the re-release. Mathema is a sole project and previous feedback has really helped make the comic what it is.

downthetubes: What are your plans for the strip — and your — future? (Okay, that’s probably two questions!)

Amy: The plan for the strip is onwards and upwards! Now the comic has it's own space online I'm working on letting people know about it and settling into a regular update time, so people know when they're going to get their next instalment.  The first 'book' of Mathema is underway at the moment but eventually I hope to see the full project completed in three parts...

We'd like to thank Amy for her time answering our questions and strongly advise heading over to and check it out. And if you want to know more about the strip's development and news on its progress, visit Amy's blog: Mathema © 2009 Amy Pearson. All images used with permission.

SciFiPulse Interviews Flash Gordon Comic Writer

UK cult TV, film and comics web site Sci-Fi Pulse will be presenting a podcast interview with film and television actor Casey Biggs (Broken Arrow, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) today, followed on Sunday 14th June by a chat with Brendan Duneen, writer of the new Flash Gordon comic published by part UK-owned Ardden Entertainment.

Casey Biggs is best known to science fiction fans as the dynamic Cardassian military officer Damar in hit TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the critically acclaimed second spin-off television series from the long running Star Trek franchise. Casey worked with super stars John Travolta and Christian Slater in John Woo's action blockbuster Broken Arrow and has made guest appearances in dozens of popular TV shows such as The X-Files and E.R. He's also well versed in live theatre and the stage.

New York-based Brendan Deneen, who represents Ardden Entertainment for its television and film projects, is currently working hard on writing the company's hit sci-fi comic series Flash Gordon. Deneen is thrilled to be updating this genre classic and SciFiPulse is excited about bringing Brendan's latest news on the
continuing adventures of Flash and the gang, as well his thoughts about the comic book industry in general, along with anything else on Brendan's mind.

Flash, which will soon complete its first arc of stories and has another 18 issues to come over the next two years, still reigns in in the top 160 comics sold each and every month in the US via Diamond Comics and still remains the best loved sci-fi hero from the golden age. "We're extremely proud that our first book has had such an impact on the comic book community," say Ardden.

SciFiPulse: An Interview with Casey Biggs podcasts on Friday 12th June at 5.00pm EDT
SciFiPulse: An Interview with writer Brendan Deneen podcasts on Sunday 14th June 14th at 5.00pm EDT.
• Web Link:

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Comix Come To Telford: Creators Wanted

Comix TelfordBudding young comic artists in Telford have the chance to learn from Marvel/DC/DC Thomson pro’s.

For the first time since it started five years ago, Midlands-based organisation Hi8us, which develops and delivers a range of arts and media projects collaborating with young people, will deliver its internationally successful and innovative Comic Art talent scheme in Telford.

Comix Telford is a talent finding competition for budding young comic artists. The aim is to discover and nurture talented artists and support them to get into the comics industry with the help of world-class comic professionals such as John McCrea (X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk) and Hunt Emerson (The Beano, Fortean Times). The scheme is completely free thanks to Telford & Wrekin’s Find Your Talent programme and the only thing applicants need to do to be considered is send in copies of their most recent comic strips and complete a short application form.

From July 2009 to October 2009, 20 finalists will get the opportunity to train with the lead professional comic artists on the scheme John McCrea and Hunt Emerson as well as a wealth of other professional talent including Laura Howell (The Beano, The Guardian), IMAF winner Asia Alfasi and Andi Watson (Geisha, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) amongst others. The invaluable experience of the professionals will be used to support and develop the talents of those on the scheme, giving them all the essential training, tips and tricks relating to the art of comics as well as a route into the industry by providing access to publishers and editors. The scheme will culminate in the trainees having their first comic book published and launched at the British International Comics Show in October.

As we've mentioned in the past, Hi8us Midlands is part of an established charity with an impressive long history of utilising the skills of experts to guide aspiring artists and media producers, with professional results. “We run a range of arts & media projects in a range of communities up and down the country; we come across a great deal of untapped talent and this scheme is just one way of meeting the needs of the gifted individuals we know are out there,” says Kulwant Dhaliwal, Hi8us Midlands Director.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity,” comments John McCrea. “When I was breaking into the industry I would have loved the chance to be on this project”.

This scheme is fully funded by Telford & Wrekin Council’s Find Your Talent programme. Julie Jones, Creative Arts Manager at Telford & Wrekin Council said “Our aim is to support and nurture talented young people, we know they’re out there!”

• The deadline for postal submissions is Friday 17th July 2009. The deadline for email submissions is Sunday 19th July 2009. If people want to find out more about the scheme they can attend the informal recruitment session taking place at the Telford College of Arts and Technology from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm on Wednesday 8th July. Comix Telford will prioritise 16 to 19 year olds living or studying in Telford.

• Applicants need to submit examples of their best and most recent work. We are looking for good photocopies of 2-4 pages of original continuous comic strip (no posters), preferably without lettering. Submission guidelines can be downloaded from To book a place at the recruitment session and/or get an application pack, contact: Kulwant Dhaliwal on 0121 753 7700 or

Mindjammer is first Starblazer Adventures game add-on

game_starblazer_adventures.jpgRebellion-owned role-playing adventure games and card and board game publisher Cubicle 7 Entertainment has just announced Mindjammer, a self-contained campaign setting designed to bring the transhuman space theme to its new Starblazer Adventures role playing game, just released in the UK.

The UK release of Starblazer Adventures caught even Cubicle by surprize after their UK distributor unexpectedly brought the release date forward, but early response to the game has been positive, with the new release already attracting plenty of press interest.

Mindjammer, set for release in November, is a sourcebook for the Starblazer Adventures game inspired by the 1980s DC Thomson comic and is set in the strange and distant future of our own planet Earth, "a cool yet believable science-fiction setting of lost worlds, incredible technologies, and clashing civilizations," according to the company. It draws upon the "far future" works of writers like Cordwainer Smith, Larry Niven, Iain M. Banks, Dan Simmons, and Peter F. Hamilton for inspiration, with nods to the pulps, space operas, and planetary romances of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harry Harrison, and Leigh Brackett.

"It was the Second Age of Space, the Rediscovery of Mankind. The light of human civilization, which had flickered and threatened to die, suddenly burned bright again with contact with the thousand worlds of space. Humankind laughed, filled with the joy and power of a new-found youth, and strode forth to bring its message of hope and regeneration to the stars..."

The Mindjammer setting, which provides everything needed to play using only the Starblazer Adventures rules, introduces the New Commonality, the nascent interstellar state attempting to dominate the Rediscovery Era, a time when ultra-advanced technologies rub shoulders with lost and regressed worlds. Offering a unique and action-packed setting of epic high adventure, Cubicle 7 describe it as "something a little different from more conventional space opera settings."

"Were we on the brink of extinction? I'd say so, yes. Three or four centuries ago, no one had any interest in anything. It was like everything worth knowing had already been known, everything worth doing already done, and a million times over. We were happy enough, with our drugs and our slaves, and our endless diversions. But we were on our way out: something had gone, some zest, some spice, that made it all worthwhile.Now you get to live as long as you want, as long as you don't get killed. Life is dangerous again. And, somehow, that suddenly makes it all worth living."

Mindjammer contains exotic races and new careers, sentient starship characters, far future technologies including the interstellar "Mindscape" and technological psionics, new skills and stunts, new starships, rules for interstellar cultures and cultural conflict, starmaps, worlds and a detailed background of a huge Star Empire and its allies and foes.

There's also a complete campaign of four linked scenarios, "The Black Zone", including some spectacular Starblazer action with combat walkers, mass battles, and terrifying alien technologies.

Mindjammer is the work of a passionate industry writer Sarah Newton, whose work includes post-apocalyptic, horror, and techno-fantasy material for Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying and soon-to-be-published short Lovecraftian fiction. She's also working with Starblazers' Chris Birch on the forthcoming Starblazer Adventures: Chronicles Of Anglerre fantasy RPG and is currently writing several adventure supplements for Mindjammer.

"Mindjammer and Starblazer is a match made in heaven for me," said Sarah. "Starblazer has the rules, the flexibility, and the sheer gaming vision to allow for truly up-to-date, 21st century science-fiction with its hyper-advanced technologies and transhuman themes. It's a game which gives you tools for some spectacular action, and with Mindjammer we've really tried to take full advantage and blaze some new trails through the stars!"

It's a busy time for Cubicle 7 whose games include not only Starblazer Adventures but Victoriana and SLA Industries. Last week, they announced joined the Rebellion Group of companies.

Founded in 2006 Cubicle 7 Entertainment was set up by Angus Abranson and Dominic McDowall-Thomas, two gaming entrepreneurs who wanted to create a games publisher fostering some truly iconic brands. The company joins 2000AD, Abaddon Books, Mongoose Publishing (another British RPG publisher) and Rebellion itself, the massive UK based video games developer established in 1992 by brothers Jason and Chris Kingsley.

The company will be now based out of Rebellion Group offices in Swindon, UK and spokesperson Chris Birch told downthetubes Rebellion's support will allow Cubicle 7 to focus on a major, as-yet-unannounced licensed mainstream release later this year as well as a busy monthly release schedule.

"This is a great move for the company and one that will certainly benefit the fans of our games.” feels Angus Abranson of Cubicle 7. "It allows us the time and resources to fully support our existing lines as well as giving us the backing to bring new ideas – and licenses – to the marketplace."

“It places us firmly were we wanted to be in several years time, right now,” added Dominic.

Jason Kingsley felt Cubicle 7 was a great addition to the Rebellion Group’s circle of creative companies. “We have been aware of Cubicle 7's ambitions and enthusiasms for some time and approached them with a view to combining resources to make a good thing great. Rebellion is very excited to be welcoming C7 into its family. Wonderful things await!”

• The Starblazer Adventures game is on sale now in the UK and available from the Cubicle 7 online store: it goes on in the US in July.

• The 160 page Mindjammer supplement is due to be released in November with further supplements due in 2010. Mindjammer has its own dedicated website at

• You can find out more about the Mindjammer supplement by downloading the Introduction To Mindjammer free pdf over at or where you can also find the free introductory adventure Escape From Venu.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Spanish Artists Go Global in Work Hunt

Vampirella by Sanjulian
Originally uploaded by JohnFreeman.
The "green shoots" of an economic upturn don't seem much in evidence today, as more creators get in touch to tell me they are seeking work in a depressed and rapidly diminishing market.

Even the hardened pros are having a hard time: Esteve Dalmau, who runs an art agency in Barcelona, got in touch this week and sent me some simply stunning samples by the likes of Martin Blanco, Paco Diaz (whose credits include Wolverine) and others.

Like many artists, they're seeking work and I've done what I can, passing on their information. With Esteve's permission, I've also posted their samples on my Flickr pages, in the hope they might catch an editor or other commissioning bod's attention.

If you are an editor or commissioning bod, drop me a line if you like what you'll see and I'll happily pass your query on to Esteve.

I'm not forgetting Britain's homegrown talent: downthetubes has a huge directory of comic creators on the main site.

I’ve no connection with Esteve but I did think the samples were impressive. Hope you do, too.

Matters of Convention: "We like original voices…"

Caption 2009: Away With the FairiesMatthew Badham goes behind the scenes of the Caption (taking place at the East Oxford Community Centre on August 15-16th) with two of several co-organisers, Jay Eales and Selina Lock.

This is the third of a series of interviews with British comic convention organisers over the next few months, which will be cross-posted on downthetubes, the Forbidden Planet International blog, Bugpowder and Fictions. Our aim is to give the conventions themselves some well-deserved publicity and also to, hopefully, spark a wider debate about what’s good and bad about the convention circuit in the UK.

Answers have been edited only in terms of spelling, punctuation and grammar, and not for style or content. All photographs featured are © their respective creators and are used with permission. More Caption photographs can be found here on Flickr.

downthetubes: Please tell us about a little about the history of your con/event and how it's evolved over the years.

Jay: Caption is the UK’s longest running comic convention. The 2009 event will be our 18th. Started in 1992 by Oxford University students Jenni Scott, Jeremy Dennis, Damian Cugley and Adrian Cox, Caption emphasises the creative side of comics, and forms the backbone of the British small press and independent comics scene. Committees come and go, generally in a five year cycle, and venues change, (though always in Oxford), but Caption rolls on.


Above: Caption 2008 guests Rian Hughes and Paul Gravett admire Woodrow's album cover art. Photo: Damian Cugley

Jay: Each Caption has a theme, around which we build our guest list, panels and talks, and an exhibition of artwork from attendees. Some years the theme is adhered to more loosely than others. We’ve had years where we’ve had big name guests such as Bryan Talbot, Pat Mills and Rian Hughes, or guests from abroad such as Carla Speed McNeil and Aleksandar Zograf. I don’t want this to descend into a huge list, so suffice it to say that we choose an eclectic guest list each year, old masters, up-and-comers and a great many who walk their own path. A typical Caption guest is someone who is or has been a self-publisher, or an iconoclast.

We like original voices. Plucking a ‘for example’ out of the air, we’d be more likely to approach Dave McKean than Jim Lee.

downthetubes: How is your con funded, by ticket sales, the exhibitors, a grant from the council, some other means or a combination of these?

Jay: Caption is funded by ticket sales, bolstered by an auction of donated art works on the Saturday evening of the convention. We also operate a system, which I believe is unique among the UK convention circuit, where instead of selling tables to exhibitors, to enable them to sell their wares, we have “The Caption Table”. In truth, it’s several tables, which trusty Caption gophers run, selling creators’ comics for them, freeing them up to enjoy the rest of the event’s talks, panels, workshops and general socialising. For this service, Caption charges a 10% fee. Creators just roll up, hand over their comics for sale, and settle up when they’re ready to leave. As they say in the advert: “Simples!”

downthetubes: What are the overall aims of your con/event?

Jay: To have fun! To promote the work of self-publishers and be a venue where creators can meet up and get to know each other in a relaxed setting. With the extremely hit or miss distribution that plagues the small press, many people use Caption as their one-stop shop, and catch up on all the small press titles that they've missed in the previous twelve months.

To raise the profile of creators we like and encourage a blurring of the line between the creator and the reader. Caption creators range from those who see their comics work as a stepping stone to working for Marvel or DC, to those who produce ten photocopies of a doodled mini-comic and hand them out for free, and all points in between. We contemplated whether it would be feasible to do some sort of Caption Small Press Awards, but concluded that it was not really in keeping with the spirit of the convention. Caption is all about inclusion, and raising one comic up above the rest does not fit the Caption ethos. Not to mention how difficult a task it would be to judge!

To help those who want to read comics find the good ones and those who want to discuss ways in which they can improve their own work avoid pitfalls or find a collaborator.

To invite interesting guests who have things to say about their careers. Just in the time I have been on the committee, we've had Al Davison, one of the world's foremost practitioners in the medium of dream comics teaching a dream comics workshop, Rian Hughes talking about design and documentary film-maker Dez Vylenz giving a talk alongside a screening of his film, The Mindscape of Alan Moore.


Andy Konky Kru drawing at Caption 2008. Photo: The Glass Eye

downthetubes: Who is your con aimed at? What sort of punters do you hope to attract? Are you family-friendly?

Jay: Caption is aimed squarely at people who like to read comics and people who like to make them. We try our best to be family friendly, but, in all honesty, we get very few children, unless they come with their parents, who are generally regulars on the comics scene. The Caption sketch pads and pens dotted around the place seem to be very popular with our younger attendees and, in most cases, talks and workshops are able to be enjoyed by all ages. It makes us feel as though we might be encouraging the next generation of creators. Last year, we had a mega-panel with a host of creators from The DFC, the new childrens' comic from Random House, which had only just launched before Caption, and a workshop with Beano/2000 AD artist Nigel Dobbyn.

downthetubes: How effective have you been in getting those kind of people to attend?

Jay: Reasonably so. While every year brings some new blood attendees, the core of Caption is the repeat custom. While it would be great to have a rush of new people, there is always the thought that if we were to double or triple in size, a lot of the things that make Caption so enjoyable would be lost. It is the intimacy of the thing that makes it work.

For example, a few years back, there was a Caption tradition where attendees could put their names down for takeaway pizza and Caption gophers would go out to pick up 30 or 40 pizzas. It was a cute little quirk of the convention, but as numbers rose, it became increasingly unworkable. I think something similar would happen to the rest of the show if we were to expand to the size of a Bristol or Birmingham show. Plus, to get those sorts of numbers through the doors, we would have to compromise on the type of guests we invited. We do our utmost to make Caption better each year, but better does not necessarily mean bigger.

downthetubes: Can you give a projected (or actual) attendance figure for your event?

Jay: Caption usually attracts somewhere in the region of 100 to 150 punters, depending on external factors like the weather, or who happens to be on the guest list that year. The majority of attendees are regulars, although we go to great lengths to make sure that Caption newbies don’t feel left out. After all, there’s nothing worse than showing up at a convention when you don’t know anyone there and seeing tables full of people who’ve probably known each other for years, deep in conversation. Working up the courage to join in can be a major hurdle, and lead to a disappointing con experience. Caption-goers are a really friendly lot, happy for anyone to just pull up a chair and join in.

downthetubes: What lessons have you learned during your time (co-)running a con, in terms of marketing and advertising your event?

Jay: That no matter how much advertising overkill you employ, Kev F Sutherland will post on some online forum or another that he didn't know about it, and why had nobody told him? (grins). In all seriousness, the Internet is your friend. It makes things so much easier to get the word out about events, as long as you cover all the bases with the different social networking sites and groups out there. But the absolute best form of marketing, for Caption, at least, is when attendees talk about the show to their friends. Strong word of mouth is what sells Caption to most newbies.

Caption 2008 Exhibitiondownrhthetubes: Do you use emerging technologies to spread the word about your con? Do you have a website or blog, or use email mailing lists?

(Jay hands over to Selina Lock, who currently sits at the heart of the Caption web promotion hub...)

Selina : ‘We use email lists (Caption Announce), have a Livejournal community (, have a Facebook Event page, and of course the convention website ( When we have something new to announce I update interested parties via the email lists, Livejournal and Facebook, and then the website is updated at a later date. Members of the committee also tend to post on their own blogs, forward the information on to other relevant lists and forums, and I've recently started twittering about Caption (Twitter ID Girlycomic, Tag: #caption2009).’

downthetubes: What about print? Do you use print advertising, have a newsletter, anything like that?

Selina: We print flyers to promote Caption, which we take along to various other shows, and have been known to plug the show in the pages of small press titles such as The Girly Comic and Violent! (both published by yours truly, funnily enough), but otherwise, we concentrate our promotion to the online and word of mouth.

downthetubes: What's the mix in terms of exhibitors at your con? Do you even have exhibitors?

Selina: It depends on how you class exhibitors. While the Caption Table does away with the need for a sea of creators sitting behind tables, the ratio of creators to readers is quite high on the creative side. And creators are also among the biggest readers too, don't forget.

Caption predominantly caters to self-publishers, some who use professional printing services, and others who control every aspect of the production of their work, bearing the scars of many years' folding and stapling wounds. But it's not all black and white autobiographical mini-comics. I don't need to tell you that the small press is a far broader church than its bigger brothers. Whoever it was who coined the term “the real mainstream” was right on the money. And yet, there's little or no snobbery on show. Every year, Tony Hitchman runs a popular quiz drawing on the lunacy of comics' history and when we had 2000AD's Betelgeusian editor Tharg as a guest, his interview panel caused the bar to completely empty, which has to be some sort of Caption record.


Last year's event produced two comics from the same lyrics, one dreamy and one nightmarish. Photo: Damian Cugley

downthetubes: What are your thoughts on the small press comics scene in this country? How do you try and support it (do you try and support it)?

Jay: Darling, Caption pretty much is the small press scene! It's a great place to take the temperature of the scene as a whole. I can't speak for Caption prior to the first one I attended in 2001, but when things are really cooking with gas, the atmosphere at Caption is electric (he said, mixing his metaphors with wild abandon...)

downthetubes: How much are the tickets for your event? How did you arrive at that price? Please tell us about any concessions.

Jay: Caption is a two-day event, with a straightforward £5 per day ticket, £10 the weekend arrangement. We've managed to hold the price for several years, and the entry price gets each attendee a copy of the Caption Programme, which contains as many pages of illustrations, comic strips and articles on the theme of the show as we can prise out of the comics community ahead of the show. As with most UK comic shows, we want to keep the entry charge as low as we can, to get as many people through the door as we can manage, and leave them with more money to buy comics, of course!

downthetubes: How much are exhibitor tables for your event (if you have any)? Again, how did you arrive at that figure?

Jay: As mentioned above, the Caption Table defeats the need for exhibitors to have their own table. We do occasionally make exceptions, when people insist on having a table to hand-sell their comics. But that usually happens with creators who’ve not been to Caption before, and have yet to experience the freedom that comes with not having to man a table all weekend and miss out on the rest of the convention!

downthetubes: Do you run workshops/events/panels at your con? Please tell us about those and how they are organised.

: All of the above. They have always been an integral part of Caption. Without them, it would just be a glorified mart. We try to link the programme of events around the theme of the show, as much as possible, although we also have to work with what we are offered.

When people offer to run workshops for us or are able to give a talk on an appropriate subject, we often bite their hands off. We look at what we've done before, to avoid repeating ourselves too much, or if something went down particularly well in a previous year, we might arrange to do it again. We listen to feedback from attendees and fine-tune things where we can. If we have a particular guest in attendance, we try to find what they are most interested in doing. That might be a talk, running a workshop or being interviewed.

We also have to balance the programme across the weekend, and take into account whether a given creator might only be able to attend on one of the days.

downthetubes: Are there any external events connected to Caption? Educational stuff, talks, workshops, comics promoting, that kind of thing?

Jay: Occasionally, Caption has done other things outside of the main show, such as financing a trip to a convention in Serbia for Lee Kennedy, who then did a talk at the next Caption about her experiences. Last year, there was a Caption Comics Collective exhibition elsewhere in Oxford, which ran across the whole of August, and showcased the work of several Caption regulars, such as Terry Wiley, Jeremy Dennis and Andy Luke. We have done some cross-promotion with similar events, such as the UK Web & Minicomix Thing and the Blam Festival, organised by Leicestershire Libraries.

downthetubes: As you've been kind enough to answer these questions, please feel free to big your con up a bit. Tell us what you do well, what your event's main attractions are and why our readers should attend the next one.

Jay: In précis form, then: Caption is an intimate and relaxed convention in Sunny Oxford, where attendees can participate in workshops, listen to talks and panel discussions on a variety of comic-related subjects, buy small press comics or ignore all that and camp out in the bar, holding forth on whatever...

Caption 2009 (aka Caption Is Away With The Fairies) takes place on August 15th-16th 2009 at the East Oxford Community Centre, 44b Princes Street, Cowley OX4 1DD. We are currently still confirming guests and the programme, but, subject to work commitments, we anticipate Garen Ewing giving a talk about how his Rainbow Orchid series went from the small press to a high-profile book launch from Egmont at the beginning of August.

Also down to attend are Sarah McIntyre, creator of The DFC strip Vern & Lettuce, talking about comics and book illustration, Mark Stafford, artist of Cherubs, (written by Bryan Talbot), rising manga star Asia Alfasi, Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie on the upcoming sequel to Suburban Glamour and others yet to confirm.

For the latest information in the lead-up to Caption, go to

Anyone who wants to submit illustrations, comic strips or articles on the subject of the theme of fairies, for consideration for the Caption Programme and/or exhibition, please get in touch with me in the first instance at:

Thanks, Jay (and Selina), for answering our questions.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

8th Fantastic Film Weekend in Bradford

The National Media Museum in Bradford will be presenting their 8th Fantastic Film Weekend from 12 to 14 June.

The Film Weekend has become a hugely popular event for fans of sci-fi and horror movies and this year there'll be screenings of such gems as The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the 1980s Flash Gordon, Shaun of the Dead and Aliens. They'll also be IMAX screenings of Watchmen and the new Star Trek movie, showings of cult TV programmes and star talks.

For more details and tickets, check out

Enter Burke and Hare...

After critical acclaim for Cancertown, Burke and Hare by writer Martin Conaghan, artist Will Pickering and letterer Paul McClaren is the next book from Insomnia Publications, which will be launched at the British International Comic Show) in early October.

The book, which features a cover by Rian Hughes, also marks the launch of the company's Vigil imprint, Insomnia's line of "bio-graphic novels".

Over a 12 month period from 1827-1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland, two Irishmen, William Burke and William Hare, murdered 16 people and disposed of their bodies to the eminent dissectionist Dr Robert Knox at 10 Surgeon's Square. This new book delves into the murky, misquoted history of Scotland's most notorious serial killers, offering a research-based graphic novel that unravels a ghoulish story of medicine, murder and money.

"We got to stare into the face of William Burke himself," reveals Martin of their background work for the book, "when the medical faculty at Edinburgh University granted us permission to view his skeleton." Creepy...

Burke and Hare also features a foreword by Alan Grant and its picture gallery will be graced by contributions from Gary Erksine, Frank Quitely and Colin MacNeil, among others.

• Managing Director Crawford Coutts joins the line up of comic creators at this year's Dundee Literary Festival (see previous news story) on the 27th- 28th of June and Insomnia will have a stall, offering the first previews of the new book.

Catch some internal art images here on the Insomnia blog

Martin Conaghan on radio, talking about the book

Tim Quinn on Tour

Comics writer Tim Quinn is back on the cartoon workshop and lecture circuit, appearing at The Brindley in Runcorn tonight and elsewhere in the UK (see current dates below).

Tim, whose credits include The Beano, Doctor Who Magazine and The Guardian and was editor of Marvel UK's Spider-Man and X-Men titles, offers would-be creators the chance to learn about comics creation in the workshop and become part of this unique method of visual storytelling.

Celebrating "42,0000 Years of Comic Books" in the evening , Tim Quinn takes you on a highly nostalgic trip down memory lane and takes you behind-the-scenes from his days working for The Beano, Sparky, Bunty, Playhour, Jack & Jill, Buster, The Topper, the Daily Mirror's Jane and Garth, and America's finest, Marvel Comics, to running his own comic book company.

• Tim Quinn - Cartoon Workshop takes place tonight on Tuesday 9 June at 3.30pm - 5pm in the Education Room, The Brindley. Places £5 to book

• The Mighty Quinn presents ARGH! The Ups and Downs of Life as a Comic Book Creator, Tuesday 9 June at 7.00pm in the Studio. Tickets £8, £6 concessions

• Web Link:

Future Dates:
If you are travelling, please check with the venue prior to the concert in case of changes. Check Tim's site ( frequently as new dates are being added all the time.

Friday 12th June 2009
The New Cut Arts Centre, The Cut, New Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8BY Tel: 0845 673 2123

Saturday 13th June 2009
Morning Workshop, 10.00am New Cut Arts Centre. The Cut, New Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8BY

Sunday 14th June 2009
Cartoon Workshops (2.00pm and 4.00pm) The Chelsea Arts Festival, London - venue details TBC Tel: 0845 890 2435 Ticket Price: TBC.

Friday 19th June 2009
Afternoon Cartoon Workshop (4.30pm) and Evening Lecture (8.00pm) Ludlow Assembly Rooms, 1 Mill Street, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1AZ Tel: 01584 878 141. Tickets: Workshop, £3.50 Show £10/9 concessions

Saturday 27th June 2009
Afternoon Cartoon Workshop (2.00pm) and Evening Lecture (7.30pm) Hull Literature Festival, Artlink Gallery, 87 Princes Ave, Hull HU5 3QP Tel: 01482 22 66 55. Ticket Price: Workshop £5, Show £5

Saturday 4th July 2009
The July Project: Afternoon Cartoon Workshop (12 noon) and Evening Lecture (7.30pm) Square Chapel Centre for the Arts 10 Square Road, Halifax,Yorkshire HX1 1QG
Tel: 01422 349 422 Ticket Price: TBC

Saturday 11 July 2009
Tamworth Assembly Rooms, Corporation Street, Tamworth, Staffs B79 7RD Tel: 01827 709618

Saturday 23rd July 2009
Evening Lecture 7.30pm Tavistock Wharf Theatre, Canal Road, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8AT Tel: 01822 611 166

Friday 21st August 2009
Cartoon Workshops (10.30am and 1.30pm) and Afternoon Lecture (4.00pm) Seven Stories, The Centre for Children's Books, 30 Lime Street, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 2PQ Tel: 0845 271 0777 ext 715 Ticket Price: Workshop, £2, Lecture £3. Plus Admission Fee: £ 5.50 Adults/£4.50 Concessions

Saturday 19 September 2009
Morning Cartoon Workshops (11.00am - 1.00pm) and Afternoon Lecture (3.00pm) Crawley Library, Crawley Library, Southgate Avenue, West Sussex RH10 6HG Tel: 01293 651 751. Ticket Price: £3.00

Tuesday 6 October 2009
Afternoon Cartoon Workshop (2.00pm) and Evening Lecture (7.30pm) Arlington Arts Centre, Mary Hare, Snelsmore Common, Newbury, Berks RG14 3BQ Tel: 01635 244231. Ticket Price: Workshop, TBC, Lecture £6.50 (£5 as part of lecture series package)

Thursday 15 October 2009
Evening Lecture 7.30pm Derby Assembly Rooms, Darwin Suite, Market Place, Derby DE1 3AH
Tel: 01332 255800. Ticket Price: £9.00 adults/ £6.00 for under 16s

Saturday 12 December 2009
Morning Cartoon Workshops (10.00am) and Evening Lecture (7.30pm) Limelight Theatre, Queens Park Arts Centre, Queens Park, Aylesbury, Bucks HP21 7RT Tel: 01296 431 272. Ticket Price: 8 adults / 6 concessions / 4 children (under 14). Show + children's workshop ticket offer: 6 (children)

(Thanks to Chris Williams for finding this info)

In Review: Khaki Shorts Issue 19

I was sent this issue of Khaki Shorts, probably Glasgow's longest running small-press comic, a while back but somehow it got buried between a copy of the local Chamber of Commerce business magazine and a review copy of Erotic Comics Volume 2.

I can only apologize to the creators for the oversight: for just one pound, this is a title jammed with the kind of madcap stuff that wouldn't look out of place in Wasted or a more experimental edition of Viz (yeah, like Viz will ever experiment these days...)

Contributors include Neil Bratchpiece (Apocalypse Now & Then), a satirical stab at a well known SFTV franchise, Star Trudge by Rob Miller, which starts well with some acerbic comment on the franchise that inspired it, but seems to meander by page 2; Men Out Of Time by Martin J. Smith and Adam J. Smith, probably the best-paced scatological strip in the issue; Super Scott: A Comedic Filler In 9 Panels (again by Rob Miller - there are two of these bonkers 'fillers'), evocative of some of Dave Jones' early work for Scan; the fart-filled Boy Mindless by A.J. Smith; and the stunning caricature-filled strip, Elexender Browne, again by Rob.

There's an energy and enthusiasm to this long-runing title that seems to have disappeared from the indie press I've seen of late: Khaki Shorts makes use of the usual trappings you'd expect from Viz (farting, vomit and sexual obsession) then shakes them up into a bizarre, often surreal package. For just a pound, it's worth supporting the work of the artists involved: the standard is high, if offbeat and any indie press title that reaches 19 issues -- even if it has taken 10 years to do it - deserves all the support it can get.

More info and ordering:

Dez Skinn - Dragged from the Grave!

Dez SkinnDez Skinn, writer and former editor of Warrior, Comics International, British MAD and many more has been persuaded back to Manchester's fab Lass O'Gowrie pub for another event.

"The b****** have dragged me out of mothballs to do a talk at the Not Part Of festival event in Manchester (with chap-hop performer extraordinaire Mr B on after me," he says.

Top Doctor Who artist Adrian Salmon has been given the challenge of delivering probing questions about his career, such as "Is it true there are still tons of Hulk Weekly in your cellar?" and more...

• An Audience with Dez Skinn will take place on 8th July 2009 at Manchester Lass O Gowrie. Doors: 6:30pm Price: £6.00. Buy Tickets Here

Monday, 8 June 2009

In Review: Aldebaran - The Catastrophe

Created by a Brazilian and originally published in French, Aldebaran was never going to be that traditional a story for British bande dessinee publisher Cinebook to translate into English for the first time.

Set on the human colony world of Aldebaran 4 a century after it lost contact with Earth, it tells the story of 16-year-old Mark and 13-year-old Kim who are thrown together when their remote fishing village is destroyed by a strange catastrophe which appears to be associated with rumours of an unknown sea creature and the sea turning to jelly - hence the unusual cover of two people running on top of the water way from a sailing boat. Orphaned and friendless, Mark and Kim set out on the long journey to the capital Anatolia to seek work and a new life as well as some sort of explanation of the disaster, during which they run into a variety of strange people and dangerous situations.

Technology on Aldebaran has retreated to early 20th century standards with wooden vehicles and giant airships and this, coupled with the fantastical creatures the duo encounter and the quest nature of the storyline, gives the overall impression of a long languid fantasy novel rather than the short hard science-fiction stories of a bande dessinee series such as Sillage.

AlderbaranThe book reprints the first two of the five Aldebaran albums, La Catastrophe and La Blonde which were originally published in 1994 and 1995. These are very much the first chapters of a much larger story, a story that took writer and artist Leo (Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira) five albums to tell and Cinebook plan to continue the Worlds Of Aldebaran sequence by reprinting the five albums of Aldebaran, as well as the five albums of the sequel series Betelgeuse, with each British book containing two of the original albums. Indeed this reprint book benefits from being a combination of the first two original albums since the lack of explanation of the events in The Catastrophe could have left the reader wondering whether there was any point in continuing with the story. The Blonde however moves the story on with the introduction of a dangerous government official and the suggestion that Alexa Komarova, the blonde woman of the title, is not entirely human.

Despite being listed by Cinebook as a 15+ age group book, a short sequence in The Blonde originally showing Alexa topless has been censored for British publication. The book notes that this was with the agreement of the creator and it is done so neatly that it has to be said that without that note the censorship would probably have passed unnoticed by most readers.

In the two albums Leo introduces the reader to a wide variety of characters, many of whom will presumably never be returned to, while leaving the background to The Catastrophe a mystery waiting to resolved. Although his art is detailed it all too often feels static which does detract from the action sequences but events in The Blonde bolster the story considerably and give the impression that a commitment to the ongoing story will reap benefits for the reader in the long run.

• More details of the British publication of Aldebaran are on the Cinebook website

• More details of the original publications are on the French language Worlds Of Aldebaran website

• More details of foreign language bande dessinee albums that have been published in English can be found on the Euro Comics Translations website.

Comics Go to War!

Quickly following up on Tim Pilcher’s two Erotic Comics volumes and Steve Holland’s Sci-Fi Art, Ilex Press have released the fourth title in their Graphic History series. Comics International editor Mike Conroy has written War Comics: A Graphic History, which covers how comics have covered war in its many forms throughout the centuries.

The book is laid out in a chronological order, not for the comics as they were published but for the conflicts they covered, beginning, perhaps inevitably, with the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC. While this is best known today through Frank Millar’s 300, the book also covers earlier comic versions of the same tale from from Dell Movie Classics to Blazing Combat.

Speaking to the American journal Kirkus Reviews, Mike said, “I decided that presenting the material in historical order made much more sense than working through it chronologically as it had been published, which is the standard approach with such comics histories. That method then became a way of focusing the content of each chapter.”

Those chapters continue through the battles of the French and British empires before the book moves on to the battles fought as America established itself as a country and into the Twentieth Century with the Great War.

While the book is aimed at an American audience with Americanised spelling throughout, the enormity of the Second World War is covered from the very different perspectives of both American and British comics. With contributions from Bear Alley’s Steve Holland, downthetube’s Jeremy Briggs and ex-Crikey! editor Brian M Clarke, the British comics section shows off the talent involved in such British war titles as Warlord, Battle and Commando to American readers much more familiar with titles such as Star Spangled War or Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos.

"I hope War Stories will show American readers that there’s more to comics than what’s published by DC, Marvel and other US publishers," Mike explains. "We Brits have also produced some great material as have writers and artists from around the globe.”

The chronological theme continues with Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands and the Northern Ireland Troubles before coming much more up-to-date with Yugoslavia, the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Overall, the book touches on all the conflicts covered by English language comics. “If I have one regret,” says Mike, “it’s that I could not include more material from outside the English-speaking world. Maybe there’s Volume 2 beckoning!!

With a foreword by writer Garth Ennis, who’s war titles are covered in the book in some depth, this is a well researched and heavily illustrated book that covers an all too often ignored area of comics history.

Buy War Comics: A Graphic History from

Spaceship Away Back with More Dan Dare

The latest issue of British SF comics magazine Spaceship Away, on sale soon, continues to deliver a terrific mix of classic SF comics, including new Dan Dare adventures and more.

The magazine features three Dan Dare strips featuring the original version of the space hero from the 1950s Eagle comic, published under license from the Dan Dare Corporation - Green Nemesis by Rod Barzilay and Tim Booth, Rocket Pilot by Keith Page and The Gates of Eden by Tim Booth. Also included are re-presentations of other strips such as Journey into Space and Nick Hazard, the latter beautifully re-coloured by John Ridgway.

New, original strips for the magazine include Ex Astris, a CGI strip from Mike Nicoll, creator of the popular adult comic Saffyre Blue, which completes a three-part story this issue but will return later next year; plus a feature on 1960s Dan Dare comics, art by Ian Kennedy featuring Dan Dare's spaceship Anastasia, and more.

It looks like it's going to be an interesting year ahead for the title: in addition to continuing Dan Dare stories and more, Issue 19 will see the arrival of the Daily Mirror's classic strip Garth, coloured by John Ridgway - a story that has never been reprinted in the UK.

Talks are also going on with Sydney Jordan about completing the Dan Dare story he started
in the Planet on Sunday, and Keith Page tells downthetubes he'll be contributing what he hopes will be a fully painted steampunk story, Iron Moon, to the magazine.

While the magazine isn't cheap, the cost is down to the high quality printing and editor Rod Barzilay's determination that the creators receive payment for their work for the title, whose sales are steadily growing worldwide. We hope you'll give it your support!

Spaceship Away Part 18 is being distributed to existing subscribers. For more about the issue, click here

To order Spaceship Away, click here

Sunday, 7 June 2009

In Review: The Sisterhood

Myebook - The Sisterhood: MorningstarBritish indie Timebomb Comics The Sisterhood: Morningstar is a gem of an indie title from this young Leicester-based UK publisher, who also brought us the time-bending Ragamuffins last year.

With art from newcomer Dan Barritt, The Sisterhood are dedicated to fighting the good fight in God's name. Sinners, it seems, are everywhere, blinded by Satan’s lure. Who else but women of faith, from all the known worlds, can thus help bring salvation to the lost souls of the galaxy and, in particular, to the backwater planet Morningstar that refuses to accept the message of the Church?

TimeBomb's first full-colour book, Steve Tanner delivers an acerbic script drawing, I'm assuming, on the Catholic Church's treatment of non-believers in the past (much in evidence in South America and Mexico during the destruction of indigenous civillisations in the quest for gold, for example): although of course there's plenty of modern-day evangelists of all Christian churches that continue to employ some appalling tactics in pursuit of converting the heathen. (The web site Religious Tolerance provides a starting point for examples...)

None though, measure up to the devastating tactics of the future See in The Sisterhood, wiping out entire planetary societies if they don't bend to the will of God. Steve's vicious and yet often funny script is actually given more menace through artist Dan Barritt's cartoony, manga-esque style: while anime and manga often use funny animals to deliver a satirical take on the world, Steve and Dan go for the jugular and bring deliver a cruel, savage take on future war, future religion with a cast of human characters.

While the title is not without fault -- with a fairly big cast for a one-shot title, more could have been done with character introduction for example, and the sheer chaos of the battle of Morningstar very occasionally leads to some confused storytelling -- any faults are more than made up for by Dan Barritt's stunning panoramic battlescapes and the delightful satire the script offers, easily on a par wit some of the best of the early 2000AD stories.

While I'd also argue the overall print quality of the title is a little dark, muting the quality of the art a tad, this is still a title well worth tracking down via TimeBomb themselves or other outlets.

Buy The Sisterhood on the TimeBomb Comics web site
Dan Barritt's official web site
Short Fuses: The Official Time Bomb Comics Blog

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