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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Merry Christmas: 6 Days To Go

As the 25th of December rapidly bears down on us, each day for the next week downthetubes will be taking a look at a selection of comics and magazines from past Christmases.

Speed and Power was Look and Learn's sibling, using much the same format but leaning more towards the technological than its older brother. It lasted for 87 issues from March 1974 to November 1975 before being amalgamated into Look and Learn, initially as a separate pull out section.

The end of 1974 saw this unusual 48 page magazine format Christmas Special which they tried their best to give a Christmas cover to. Indeed each of the three subjects that artist Wilf Hardy illustrates are included in the contents - from the (sort of Christmassy) snowmobile racing to the RAF's then new Hawk trainer aircraft to the Soviet rocket launching a Mars probe.

The Christmas Special was as close as Speed and Power got to an annual during its lifetime although three Look and Learn Books of Speed and Power appeared after the two titles were amalgamated.

As for the weekly magazine the Christmas issue was hardly that Christmassy with a half hearted attempt at putting some holly and a "Happy Christmas!" on the front cover which featured a less than wintry dune buggy racer and a Royal Marines Commando Dory rigid raider.

More Christmas covers tomorrow.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Strip! - Cartoons in Classrooms

In the last of this month's shows looking at the use of comics in education, the Strip! radio show, broadcast on Resonance FM and now available as a podcast, have interviews with a variety of practitioners and tutors with an interest in the subject.

Sarah Lightman visits the Eastside Educational Trust in Hackney and talks to two of the tutors / mentors from the organisation - Rakhee Jasani and Truly Johnston - who have set up a project called 'Graphic Truths' as a way of engaging young people with comic book creation to tell stories that are personal to them. Sarah also talks to four of the young creators - Chantelle, Shantel, Leke and Nickita - who have worked on the project and are seeing their comics printed in an anthology called Tales of Diversity being launched next month.

Also, Alex Fitch talks to V for Vendetta illustrator David Lloyd and cartoonist Steve Marchant about the project Cartoon Classroom they've set up with the help of Paul Gravett; a not-for-profit website that aims to inspire the next generation of cartoonists and make the art form more accessible to children and adults who want to be more proficient at creating comic-strips and drawing cartoons. is also designed as a gateway and information resource for studying cartoon and sequential art in schools, colleges, libraries and museums across the UK and Ireland.

Strip! Cartoons in the Classrooms is available as a podcast at Strip! airs initially on Resonance 104.4 FM (London) on Thursdays and is streamed at

Tube Surfing: Mike Collins Draws New Who, Harker, Alternative Press News...

Some quick, short items today, as I'm immersed in some research for Titan and other things...

• A slew of updates from ever busy comics artist Mike Collins, which are mostly Doctor Who related, including an original graphic novel for BBC Books, and drawing Matt Smith's debut for Doctor Who Magazine. Mike also some GI Joe stuff for Panini that's just come out with Gary Erskine on inks.
"He did a fab job!," enthuses Mike. "Kev Hopgood did some too -- it was like slipping back two decades...."

For those of you who may have missed it, in September Alladin Books (part of Simon&Schuster) released a pre-teen graphic novel about the young King Arthur Mike illustrated. Finally, while it was released back in 2008, what better time to re-plug A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel, drawn by Mike and published by Classical Comics? Go get it...

• Alternative Press Festival organiser Jimi Gherkin is still accepting submissions for the APF2010 poster. Blue biro images, no more than 70mmx70mm please to jimigherkin(at)

Omnivistacope cover artist Paul McCaffrey is currently working on a strip for IDW, Masques, to run in Zombies Vs Robots: Adventure #1-4. Check out his work at:

Harker creators Roger Gibson and Vincent Danks are official guests at Hi-Ex comic convention, Eden Court, Inverness, on 27th-28th March. Find out more here.

Martin Conaghan and artist Will Pickering will be appearing at Forbidden Planet Edinburgh on Thursday 28 January 2010 from 4.30-5.30pm to sign copies of their graphic novel, Burke & Hare.

Rainbow Orchid creator Garen Ewing has cut prices of his signed and sketched-in books, as well as t-shirts, by £4 for the duration of December 2009. See the shop page here.

Simon Mackie: Positively Christmas

Simon Mackie: Positively Christmasdownthetubes gets a lot of eCards, and we put all the artist contributuons here on Flickr, because we can't think of anywhere else to display them. But this year Simon Mackie has again outdone others with a whole Christmas-inspired comic strip...

• View Simon Mackie: Positively Christmas

Eagle Times Warms Up Winter

ET22-4.jpgThe latest issue of Eagle Times (Vol 22 No 4, Winter 2009) is now available from the Eagle Society, wrapped in this cheery winter scene that illustrated an article titled 'He wants to be a Postman' from the Christmas issue of Eagle published in 1956 (Volume 7 No 52).

(Anyone who saw Panorama this week will clearly be wishing for a return to such times when post people were valued rather than poorly served by their management...)

The full line up of contents includes:

  • Eagle artists at home - recollections of Eagle illustrators Frank Hampson, Ron Embleton, Keith Watson, Frank Humphris, John Worsley, Peter Jackson and Don Lawrence in the 1970s and 1980s

  • John Dyke - the third in a series of articles about Eagle's nature artists reveals what is known of the artist of 'Advice on your Pets' and 'Discovering the Countryside'

  • Treasure, John Worsley and 'Wee Willie Winkie' - the PC49 artist's spot-illustration work for Fleetway's pre-school periodical Treasure

  • Dimworthy and Co, part 2 - concluding a review of Eagle's school strip stories

  • Rod Barzilay's Spaceship Away Day - photographs and review from the second gathering of 'Dan Dare' fans at Bournemouth in November 2009

  • 'The Case of the Purple Paint' - a PC49 Christmas story

  • The Late Jack Daniel - some personal recollections about Eagle's first 'Riders of the Range' artist

  • Under the 1950s Christmas Tree - some toys Santa might have left for you back in Eagle's times

  • 'Nowhere' is not quite what it seems - a review of the 1956 Pathe Pictorial on Frank Hampson and the 'Dan Dare' Studio, which you can view in part online online via British Pathe

  • Is there Anybody there? - an address to the Eagle Society at the 2009 Annual Dinner

  • Christmas Eagles - a look at Christmas issues of Eagle, its some of its companion and rival papers.

  • Eagle Autographs, part 6 - a post-script covering the Eagle Club's figureheads

  • What's in a name, part 2 - concluding a look at the career of the multi-talented Gerry Embleton, the artist who brought back 'Dan Dare' in "new" Eagle (1982)

  • Eagle Annual: the best of the 1960s comic - a review of Orion Books' latest "nostalgia" publication

  • Pop Music during Eagle times - part 18, covering 1967

To obtain a copy, join the Eagle Society via Annual Subscription, which includes a subscription to Eagle Times, which is published four times annually. The Subscription rate for 2010 is: UK £23; Overseas £34 (in £s Sterling, please)

• Apply by snail mail to: Keith Howard, 25A Station Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA. Enquiries:

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Fractal Friction springs from love of 2000AD

Fractal Friction Page 1A number of long-time fans of 2000AD have banded together to launch Fractal Friction, an online collaborative storytelling venture, a story that starts when a man turns up for a job interview only for it to lead to something altogether stranger.

Co-ordinated by the mysteriously-monikered Emperor, there are some great artists involved, all regular contributors to many UK indie press titles, including Matt Soffe , James Corcoran, Kevin Levell, Conor Boyle, and Chris Askham, the project given a more uniform feel with lettering by Jim Campbell.

"The common thread is that we all read 2000AD and have been known to frequent the official forum," explains the Emperor of the project, "where a lot of the artistically inclined take part in the competitions (and generally help each other out in the creators forum). A number of us also contribute to the small press: Chris has a long history of work on FutureQuake Press titles and he, Kev and I are all in the latest Zarjaz and Kev, Matt and... me again are in the current Dogbreath.

"Jim is the old, seasoned, pro keeping us all in line, having written the Warhammer 40k story Daemonifuge and the Dredd-world tale The Inspectre... and with his lettering cropping up all over the place. He isn't a shabby artist either, so he could really be doing this as a one-man show if I hadn't wedged a spoon into his cerebellum."

The Emperor says he is "operating in a scripting support role, ready to give as much or as little as is required."

A number of the contributors had been thining about doing a collaborative comic for some time, inspired by the success of such things as Huzzah. "We'd thrown out such an idea on the 2000AD forum," the Emperor continues, "So I was obviously up for the challenge but how to start?

Fractal Friction Page 2"Matt suggested I dust off an old story idea but that didn't narrow it down as I've got a tonne of them sitting around (even if a reasonable proportion are fit only for the budgie cage). I did have a nose through them though, and found one idea I'd come back to a couple of times but it had never got beyond the introduction. The basic premise was: a young lad turns up for a job interview and ends up being catapulted right off the map. The first iteration of this idea, gave us the name "Fractal Friction," although the story and reason for the name will remain a mystery for now, as there is a possibility we will delve into that further down the line.

"The second shot at the story is pretty much what you see, just with a little back and forth first helping firm up the characters and the larger backstory. So once this was given a provisional thumbs up, I hammered out the 40 panels-worth of introduction (as it was pretty clear in my head by now) which, the way it has been divided up, runs to the first nine pages."

And then beyond that... what?

"Well, that's all up in the air and is where the fun really starts!" says the Emperor. "I'm happy to step back and let the artists take it from there, seeing where the story takes them... Beyond page 9 it is all up to the artists and whatever approach they prefer: I can leave them to it and cheer them on from the sidelines or I can offer advice when required or do some heavy to light plotting Marvel Method-style or I am up for just adding the words to the pictures or I might be called upon to provide more script.

"We'll have to play it by ear, but I'm up for any challenge and it'll be fun seeing where it goes.

Read Fractal Friction from the start

• If you're a writer or artist interested in getting involved in later developments for the project, email the Fractal Friction team (or drop them a note on the 2000AD forum).

• Art featured above is © respective creators

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Mirabalis Christmas Ghost Story is an Online Gem

We plugged the Mirabilis team's free-to-download Year of Wonders PDF comic just yesterday, but we're so knocked out by the Henry James-styled Christmas ghost story that we're urging you all to head over and grab your own copy - described as a "work in progress" - as soon as possible. It's just fab.

"Christmas Eve in particular is a time when the world holds its breath, the pulse of time fluttering to nothing for an instant before it begins again," says Dave Morris in his introduction to the tale. "Could there be a more appropriate time to settle down with a tale to send shivers up your spine?"

“A Wrong Turning” is one of half a dozen self-contained seasonal stories originally written to promote Mirabilis, a strip which fisrt saw light in the weekly The DFC comic from Random House and is now enjoying a new life online.

There’s nothing about the story that marks it as being set in the Mirabilis universe, however. A bereaved father and son take a detour that leads them into an eerie encounter with the next world. The tight, atmospheric pencils are by Martin McKenna, and you’ll see right away why he is so in demand for movie storyboarding, his art style evocative of the likes of great Creepy artists like Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall, Angelo Torres and Al Williamson.

You’ll find the PDF of “A Wrong Turning” here. "Go ahead, it’s our Christmas present to you," urges Dave. "All we ask is that, if you enjoy it, please send it to at least two friends who you think might like it, and ask them to do the same. If you have a blog or a website whose readers might appreciate a little scare, by all means feel free to put it up there too.

"2010 is the year we’re planning to embrace viral marketing, and we mean to hit the ground running."

Mirabalis Official Web Site

British Comic Creator Interviews on SciFiPulse

bryan_talbot_bics09_danberry.jpgLongtime downthetubes readers know this site trades news items with the superb science fiction TV, film and genre site SciFiPulse, but what with recent holidays here in the tubes, we've missed some of their coverage of British comics. So here's a quick round up of some of their recent interviews, with links, courtesy of Ian Cullen that site's webmaster and owner ...

In May, SciFiPulse Radio took its first steps into Brit Comics with two cracking interviews with Martin Conaghan, writer of Insomnia Publications' Burke & Hare, and Tony Lee, who talked about Markosia's From The Page’s Of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’: Harker. "This was still early days for the radio show and was before it had established any sense of format," says Ian of these early forays into audio, pointing out he only began the podcast in March - although he's had something of a baptism of fire with the project with the occasional 'missing guest'.

In July the podcast struck once again and produced a somewhat informal and comical interview with artist Simon Wyatt who is hard at work on his book Unbelievable for Insomnia Publications.

In October, after having done a fairly strong interview with them on the scifipulse website, Ian opted to bring Peter David Douglas and Neil Van Antwerpen on to the radio show and sink his fangs into some of their thoughts about the work process then went through for Harker with Tony Lee.

In November, just one week after interviewing Amanda Tapping of Stargate and Sanctuary fame, Ian took another step into the world of comics and spoke to Ian Sharman, owner of Orang Utan Publishing.

Of course, it goes without saying that the British Comics business owes much to the talents of Bryan Talbot for bringing us the first official British Graphic Novel, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, as well as Grandville. Ian caught up with him and managed to produce an insightful interview with the writer and artist, which was the first show to air in December.

Although many interviews were done on the radio show in 2009. Ian still found time to post a few interviews at the main website, including an abbreviated version of the audio interview with Bryan here.

Prior to having them on the radio, Ian first interviewed Peter David Douglas and Neil Van Antwerpen for, where they spoke about their work on Harker. You can read this interview at:

Ian also spoke to publisher Harry Markos of Markosia Comics, and tells me has many more British comic creator interviews coming up, including Leigh Gallagher, artist for 2000AD and, sometime in the new year for the radio show, and is also planning a website Q&A with Dan Dare and Knights of Pendragon artist Gary Erskine.

• You can download episodes of the radio show at or through iTunes store by typing in scifipulse and clicking on subscribe.


Tube Surfing: Death's Head, Poot, Chattyman and a Christmas Competition


• Death's Head is back! And not some Johnny-Come-Lately Death's Head II or III, or even the bit-on-the-small-side Version I, the result of an encounter with the good Doctor and his TARDIS. No, Marvel's new S.W.O.R.D. title features everyone's favourite robot bounty hunter from his giant robot days, back when he could go a few rounds with a Transformer or two -- and indeed, did, before he was dropped into the Marvel Universe via Doctor Who Magazine. Written by Keiron Gillen, with art from Steven Sanders, the book's second issue, featuring a no-holds barred fisticuffs between Marvel UK's most memorable mechanoid and S.W.O.R.D's finest. Catch it via your local comic shop now.

Poot! Comic is back! This British humour comic was first published in the 1980s and 90s but has now been relaunched as a bi-monthly title. Issue number 2 is in the shops now: we'll have more about this soon, but in the mean time, check the comic's web site at

alancarr.jpg• Anyone watching the Comedy Awards on ITV Sunday night may have noticed a superhero style to some of the set dressing around the room, including Alan Carr as "Chattyman". One of the contributors to this look was none other than Jon Haward, these days best known for his work for Classical Comics but who can clearly turn his hand to just about anything! "I was asked by the Production Designer Simon Kimmel to draw Mr Ross looking like a superhero," explains Jon. "The producers of the show liked my samples so I was given a contract to work on the show!"

vica4.jpg• The second batch of four David Lloyd illustrations to raise money for the Cartoon Classroom project went for over £300 on eBay. There are another three up now and darn fine they look too...

RAF News recently published a story on the ongoing success of Commando, which still have total sales of some 70,000 copies per month. (We assume that figure is for all eight titles issued in one month, not per issue). Talking to editor Calum Laird about the DC Thomson war comic he attributes the title's enduring success to the stories, "their quality and complexity and the authenticity we try to give them, backed up with first-class artwork. The stories are quite complex and multi-layered.”

If you want to dip back into Commando, why not give their Christmas competition to win collections of the comic?. Yes, some lucky person will win a (postman crippling) eight of Carlton's Commando reprint books in this competition being run on the official Commando website. Considering how big each book is that is a lot of reading for someone in the New Year!

downthetubes stalwart Matthew Badham has not only been busy in print, with a massive John Ridgway interview in the latest Judge Dredd: The Megazine: he's also just posted a 2008 archive interview with Si Spurrier on his own ace blog, talking about the much-missed Warhammer Monthly. Only a few select quotes from the interview were used in the Judge Dredd:The Megazine two years ago, and the longer interview offers much more information.

• And finally for this Tube Surf - the creators of Mirabilis - one of the best unfinished strips in the much-missed subscription only comic The DFC - are offering a fantastic ghost story for Christmas: check it out on their web site. If you like it, please help us to spread the word!

Compiled with thanks to Calum Laird, Jeremy Briggs and Sven the Sax!

Monday, 14 December 2009

SciFi Art Now book gets green light

ILEX Books have given the green light to SciFi Art Now, a book project assembling outstanding examples of the very best in science fiction art, which is being edited by downthetubes webmaster John Freeman.

John hopes plenty of illustrators from around the world from book, game, comics and other publishing fields will want to have a sample of their work considered for the final book. "We want the book to feature the very best samples from both new and established illustrators," he says. 

Editorially, ILEX, well known for their huge range of art books including Comic Art Now, edited by Dez Skinn and Fantasy Art Now by Martin McKenna, would prefer to see more aliens and human SF visuals -- strong, inspiring characters from modern SF -- rather than spaceships and alien vistas, although there will be space for those too. It's worth checking out the Amazon links above to both books as both catalogue entires offer a 'look inside' feature which will give you an indication of the kind of standard of work that has been featured in the past.

Samples will be needed by 8th January 2010 if possible.

"ILEX tell me contributors to the other books in the series have secured work as a result of being in the collections," says John, "which I hope is incentive to artists to get involved." 

• For more information about chapter headings, technical details and other information, get in touch with John via

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Really Heavy Greatcoat Review of the Year

Yes - a new Really Heavy Greatcoat! Longtime downthetubes readers will know the Greatcoat strip was the joint creation of myself and Nick Miller back in 1987 (more info here), but what with other work commitments and the assumed demise of Comics International, where it was last appearing (the publisher now appears to be ignoring our emails for confirmation of this), the strip has taken a back seat to other things for the moment.

That hasn't stopped Mr Miller creating his now traditional 'Review of the Year' featuring some of the characters, and he's also created a smashing seasonal e-card which will be winging its way around the Internet to our loyal downthetubes supporters very soon. Enjoy. Over, to you, Nick...


• More great Nick Miller and 'Team Sputnik' goodies at:

More Really Heavy Greatcoat strips and information

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