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Friday, 2 April 2010

Photo Review: Hi-Ex 2010

There was something missing at Hi-Ex this year - snow.

After two years of heavy snow either on or just before the convention's weekend, organisers Richmond Clements and Vicky Stonebridge pushed this year's date back from mid-February to the end of March and it worked - just.

Saturday 27th March dawned sunny, dry and not too cold at the Eden Court complex in Inverness, and while the Sunday wasn't as bright, there was no snow. Even the Monday morning, for those travelling home that day, was also dry and sunny. It was third time lucky for Hi-Ex as the snow stayed away – at least until the Monday night, when lorries were trapped on the M90 motorway unable to climb the hills on either side of the Strathearn valley in Perthshire, the same road so many of us had driven south on in the 24 hours beforehand.

Snow really did seem to be the only thing missing from the convention this year. So what was there?

Stormtroopers - check; got to have those these days and there was even a Star Wars artist present as well.

2000AD artists from new young upstarts to those seasoned enough that they were about to retire - check; Brit-Cit had sent a Rad-wagon through the northern wastes to the wilds of Cal-Hab just to see them.

Female mangaka with long queues of youngsters wanting their portraits done manga style - check; were the manga queues longer than the 2000AD queues? Hard to tell but there can't have been much in it either way.

Goodie bags - check; good(ie) grief, will we ever forget the number of DC comics badges that were around the convention?

Small press publishers with a bewildering variety of home made zines - check; not quite so small press publishers with their professionally printed comics - check; two big comics shops with all the selection of professional comics and graphic novels that you would expect - check.

Old favourites like Cinebook with their wide selection of bande dessinee titles and Mark Stevens with his scratch build science fiction models - check.

New favourites such the DFC people with their new DFC Library books and children's storybooks and the stall manned by DC Thomson writers, artists and editors that was selling DC Thomson merchandise (but wasn't a DC Thomson stall – nope, definitely not a DC Thomson stall) - check.

Hi-Ex certainly ticked all the boxes this year. Team Hi-Ex - Rich, Vicky, Ish and Lukas - did us all proud and hopefully we all did the Scottish children's charity, Children 1st, proud as well with the total amount to be donated to them easily set to beat the previous year's amount. Roll on next year.

* * * * * * * *

The calm before the storm - final touches being put to the tables in the main hall just before the doors opened on Saturday morning.

Dandy and Beano artist Stephen White at his first comics convention checks out Graeme Neil Reid's table and gets a few tips on surviving a two day Scottish convention with your sanity (almost) intact from someone who has been at every Hi-Ex.

Stevie then started into sketches of various Dandy and Beano characters for an ongoing stream of delighted children.

Meanwhile Graeme, who tends to do his sketches beforehand and puts them up on his blog, took the time to do several sketches on the Sunday including this one of Judge Death.

"Fun for all and all for fun", artist Gordon Tait, ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie and artist Stevie White on the 'not the DC Thomson' table.

Opposite DCT was the DFC area with Gary Northfield, Dave Shelton, Jim Medway and Sarah McIntyre. While the Gerry Anderson fans in the crowd may have been wondering why she wasn't wearing a purple wig, Morris Heggie couldn't resist the chance to get a signed copy of Sarah's storybook Morris the Mankiest Monster...

...while the nearby wall began to show off the efforts of the children who were helped by Sarah to create space monsters over the two days.

What does DFC stand for? Dodgy Fotographic Contortions? Sarah gets enthusiastic about photographing Dave and the resulting photo is on her blog and shows that this was actually worth it.

From Brit comics to Franco-Belgian and over at the Cinebook stall, Aldous shows off the latest translated Lucky Luke soon, no doubt, to top their sales charts...

...while at the other end of the table French artist Michel Rodrigue, in his first UK convention appearance, was busy sketching retired secret agent Clifton...

...and his dishy sidekick Jade for those buying his Clifton books that have been translated into English by Cinebook.

Continuing artists row and Alex Moore, who is working on Hi-Ex co-organiser Richmond Clements' Turning Tiger comic, was wired for sound...

...while Titan Star Wars artist Tanya Roberts was bright and ready to go on the Sunday morning when rather a lot of people were feeling the combined effects of the all-you-can-eat meal and the bar from the night before plus the jump to British Summertime that morning.

Beside Tanya was mangaka Inko all set for the queues of people wanting manga portraits of themselves...

... while around the corner Asia Alfasi was dazzling us with her smile and her lovely 'business cards', small scrolls with artwork on one side and her details on the other, all tied up in a red ribbon.

Meanwhile under a set of ridiculously large Kick-ass posters were the (mainly) 2000AD artdroids, Colin MacNeil (here doing his best Terry Pratchett impersonation)...

...along with artists Simon Fraser and Charlie Adlard who all never quite seemed to loose the queues for sketches on the Saturday.

On the Sunday the group came together for a History of 2000AD talk which also brought in artist Cam Kennedy, who had been happily walking round the main hall and signing autographs, as well as artist John Higgins and writer Al Ewing.

If 2000AD and the Megazine wasn't enough Thrillpower for you then Dave Evans (BOLT-01) of Futurequake Press was on-hand with the latest issues of Zarjaz and Dogbreath which proved to be very popular.

The Scotch Corner Art Blog was well represented with Graeme Neil Reid, Simon Fraser and here, Gary Erskine, behind tables all weekend along with a quick appearance by Tom Crielly on the Saturday.

No one was going to miss Terry Martin and his text based Murky Depths magazine with the most impressive display of any of the tables...

...while Alpha Gods' Ian Sharman, having serenaded Thoughtbubble punters in Leeds last November, left his guitar at home this time. From small press to smaller press and the international duo of Kyle Rogers and Cliodhna Lyons who hail from the Republic Of Ireland, live in London and now sell in Scotland...

...while Paul Thomson of the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based Paper Jam Comics Collective had a wide selection of Paper Jam titles available as well as the critically acclaimed Omnivistascope which was trumpeting the fact that each of its five issues had been Fanzine Of The Month in SFX magazine.

The 21st century fanzines that we call blogs were also present, downthetubes (obviously) included, but Joe Gordon of the FPI blog trumped us all by not just tweeting from the convention but also posting a blog piece up while in the convention hall itself. He may have thought he had hidden himself away in a dark corner in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of FPI Edinburgh's blog cave but you can't hide from a long lens.

Meanwhile, in downthetubes' ongoing attempts not to show pictures of Stormtroopers pointing guns at people kneeling on the ground, here we have the horrified reaction of one Stormtrooper to the idea that there may be more than one type of rebel.

Of course, the thing to remember about the Eden Court complex is with its theatres, cinema screens, meeting rooms, bar and restaurant, Hi-Ex was never going to have the entire place to itself, which must have surprised and thoroughly bemused the patrons of the Inverness Operatic Society when they arrived on the Saturday afternoon to see the Society's performance of Titanic and were confronted with a varied selection of Stormtroopers, Zombies and Manga characters as they walked around the corner.

Whatever they thought, for us, as in its previous two years, Hi-Ex was great fun.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

John's a Record Breaker!

Congratulations to downthetubes' head honcho John Freeman on becoming a Guiness Record Breaker!

Doctor Who Magazine has been named the Longest Running Magazine Based on a Television Series. John edited 49 issues of DWM from 1988 t0 1992. He was the third longest-running editor.

John's time on DWM was hugely important. He was the first person who had to edit the magazine when the show went off the air in 1989. He built on the good work of his predecessor Sheila Cranna, revamping the design of the title and improving the factual content by bringing Who experts such as Andrew Pixley onto the team.

Doctor Who Magazine began as Doctor Who Weekly way back in 1979 under the editorship of Dez Skinn. Whilst factual content now dominates the magazine, the comic strip has continued to be a central part of it. Early contributors to the strip included Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons. John himself has written for the strip.

Well done, John - we always knew you were a legend but now it's official.

John Hicklenton: A Tribute by Pat Mills

Earlier this month, the phenomenal comics artist John Hicklenton sadly passed away.

Pat Mills, who often worked with John, looks back at the career of an extraordinarily talented artist here on the downthetubes main site, a version of his feature for Judge Dredd: The Megazine which has also appeared elsewhere online.

Best known for his brutal, visceral work on flagship 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd (in particular Heavy Metal Dredd) and Nemesis the Warlock during the 1980s and 90s, John suffered from multiple sclerosis and recorded an award-winning documentary, Here's Johnny, about living with the condition.

hicklenton_100_months52.jpgHe chose to end his life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

John was working right up to the day before he died, completing work on a new book, 100 Months, which will be published later this year.

Read the tribute by Pat Mills

Garth Ennis’ Battlefields

BF05Firefly02-Cov_1.jpgWhile we're primarily a British comics news site our remit does often cover the work being done by British comic creators beyond our shores - and one title that recently caught our attention, very belatedly, is Garth Ennis' Battlefields project for Dynamite Entertainment. (All right - make that incredibly belatedly, but the beauty of today's comics is that you can catch up with collections!)

Launched back in 2008 with "Night Witches" - the tale of female Russian fighter pilots inspired in part by Battle Picture Weekly's Johnny Red, in addition to the strips themselves, utilising top artists such as John Cassady, PJ Holden and, currently, Carlos Ezquerra, Garth has been plugging British war comics along the way. (He freely admits his love of the genre and is providing the introduction for the first Johnny Red collection from Titan Books, out later this year).

The latest series is a sequel to the critically acclaimed The Tankies storyline, set in 1945. Fan favourite character Sherman Stiles has been promoted from Corporal to Sergeant. With his Firefly, a British version of the Sherman Tank, and a high-velocity gun, Sherman is set to tear apart any German Tiger tanks in his own way – but this time, the Germans have an ace up their sleeve... the fearsome King Tiger tank!

“It’s early 1945 and the recently promoted Sergeant Stiles is now happily in command of a Firefly, a British adaptation of the American Sherman tank with a high-velocity gun – one that can even take out Stiles’ nemesis from last time, the German Tiger,” says Garth. “But as the Allied armies advance onto German soil, Hitler’s armies are getting ready to go down fighting, and Stiles soon finds himself locked in a one-on-one duel with the fearsome King Tiger tank.

TNBFTankies02CovCassaday.jpg"This monster makes the ordinary Tiger look like a house cat, so it’s pretty much back to square one for our hero and his crew… which Stiles takes with his usual good humor and stoicism, of course. ... Anna Kharkova from The Night Witches and Corporal (now Sergeant) Stiles from The Tankies were both strong enough characters that I wanted to write new stories for them.”

With interiors by the talented Carlos Ezquerra and covers by veteran series cover artist Gary Leach, Battlefields is clearly firing on all cylinders, and critics have been enthusing about Ennis’ relaunch in the action-filled period of World War II.

TNBFHV01CovLeachCensored.jpg“Dynamite has a good series here with stories that Ennis truly seems passionate about," noted Doug Zawisa, Comic Book Resources about Battlefields: Happy Valley. "While it is hard to emotionally invest in these characters due to their lack of history, there is no denying these characters are human and can be related to or empathized with. For those looking for a war comic fix, you certainly cannot go wrong with Ennis’ series.”

Battlefields: Happy Valley is the perfect example of how war comics should be done," agreed web site Hypergeek. "Actually, it’s not just an example of a perfect war comic, it’s an example of a perfect comic! Garth Ennis’ character driven script, accompanied by PJ Holden’s intense and powerful artwork, make for one of the best comics on the shelves. The second season of Battlefields is of to a fine start, and sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the series.”

The latest issue of Battlefields is on sale in the UK in specialist comic shops. Dynamite collected the first Battlefields stories - Night Witches, Dear Billy, and Tankies - last year. The edition features some ever-so-slight tweaks the creators have meticulously restored, plus bonus art material including a complete cover gallery and a special look at the making of the stories.

Web Links

Latest Battlefields on the Dynamite Entertainment web site

Preview pages from the 2008 release 'The Night Witches' on Comic Book Resources

Battlefields: Happy Valley - Dynamite Entertainment

Battlefields: The Tankies - Dynamite Entertainment

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ministry of Space discounted

Warren Ellis' and Chris Weston's wonderfully retro Ministry of Space is available for a limited time from Forbidden Planet International for £5.39 - that's 40 percent off the usual price.

This is the 2009 paperback edition - 96 glorious pages.

Ministry of Space has, arguably, proved to be a bigger hit with Dan Dare fans than most recent Dan Dare revivals. Set in an alternative reality where Britain dominated the space race after World War Two but never underwent the social revolution of the 1960s the book is considered a must for sci-fi fans, comic fans and anybody who like a good tale well told.

Chris Weston, whose credits include Judge Dredd and Swamp Thing, is the artist on whose designs the new Dan Dare figures are based.

The book is available at the lower price until Wednesday 14th April 2010.

Plum action in Commando!

New issues of DC Thomson's war comic digest Commando are now on sale now... got get 'em!

Commando4279.jpgCommando 4279: Too Many Heroes

Previously No 2590 from 1992
Story: Ian Clark
Inside Art: Salmeron Cover: Ian Kennedy

With three older brothers all war heroes, it was no wonder Ben Fraser wanted to join up. And, as the Second World War entered its last year, he got his chance. But always at the back of his mind was a nagging doubt — did he have the same kind of courage as his brothers?

Commando4280.jpgCommando 4280: Plum's War

Previously No 2546 from 1992
Story: Ian Clark Inside Art: Ibanez
Cover: Alan Burrows

Overweight, carefree and scruffier than your average sack of potatoes, you could hardly meet a less soldierly figure than Captain Albert ‘Plum’ Duff.

Put Plum in a fight, though, and you’d find few better officers in the British Army — something the lean supermen of the Afrika Korps were about to their cost!

Commando4281.jpgCommando 4281: Battle of the Blue Nile

Story: Alan Hebden Inside Art: Keith Page Cover: Keith Page

Since ancient times it had been said, ‘He who controls the Nile controls Egypt.’

During the Second World War this saying was never more prophetic, as German and Italian forces had a secret plan in mind for the most famous river in the world... And it was up to a plucky bunch of mismatched heroes — including a young Ethiopian prince — to stop them if they could!

Commando4282.jpgCommando 4282: ‘V-Bomber Down!’

Story: Alan Hebden Inside Art: Carlos Pino Cover: Carlos Pino

When the forces of the Western Allies and the Eastern Bloc faced each other in the Cold War, Britain’s mightiest bombers were the Victor, Valiant and the Vulcan — the V-Bombers. Cutting-edge technology, they bristled with secret equipment.

When one crash-lands mysteriously on a snow-covered disputed island, special forces from both sides are ordered to the scene, each determined to be there first. As the heavily-armed troops close in, there is every possibility that their actions could turn a Cold War into a very hot one indeed.

• Click here for subscription information or write to: D.C. Thomson & Co Ltd, The Subscribers Department, Commando Library, 80 Kingsway East, Dundee DD4 8SL or Freephone (UK only) 0800 318846

Tim Perkins interviewed on the BBC

(Via Blimey! It's a Blog About Comics): Animation expert, comics creator and comics teacher Tim Perkins was interviewed on the John Gillmore show on BBC Lancashire this week, talking about his work and comics in general.

"We had some great fun and I ended up doing a sketch of John in his superhero alter-ego live on the show," Tim reveals on his blog, "and also gave him some art tips in the process, having him produce his own sketches too."

Tim's pretty busy at present, trying to finish his Worlds End graphic novel: he's also got several children’s book commercial commissions in the pipeline.

• You can listen to the interview until next Monday on the BBC iPlayer at Tim's interview starts about 16 minutes in, and runs until about 1:11 on the time bar.

Classic Bible Stories from The Eagle

44-Road-of-Courage.jpgSome of Britain’s finest English comics artists of all time, including Frank Hampson (co-creator of Dan Dare) and Frank Bellamy (creator of Heros the Spartan and one of the key artists on another comic, TV Century 21) also produced strips for the classic British comic Eagle based on stories from the Bible.

I'm pleased to report that Titan Books is collecting these stories for the first time ever in collector editions of Classic Bible Stories - the first book edited by myself on sale now, produced with more than a little help from David Leach and the rest of the Titan Books team, and Spaceship Away's Dez Shaw, the latter doing all the scans of the comics pages. This volume comprises Frank Hampson’s critically-acclaimed Road of Courage, the life story of Jesus, and Mark: The Youngest Disciple, drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis.

A second volume, comprising The Shepherd King (written by Clifford Makins and drawn by Frank Bellamy) and The Great Adventurer, the story of Saint Paul (written by Chad Varah, drawn by Frank Hampson) is scheduled for Easter 2011.

Jesus head used as reference for Road of Courage by Frank HampsonWhile planned background feature material - including images of the sculpted head of Jesus Hampson used as reference, right) - was dropped from the publication, the strips themselves, I think, speak for themselves and Dez's scans are superb given the age of the source material.

The Road of Courage (Credited as being written by Marcus Morris and drawn by Frank Hampson) ran in Eagle from Volume 11, issue 12 to Volume 12, issue 14 (19/03/60 – 08/04/61) and comprises 56 episodes. Told in a way that focuses on the human rather than the miraculous or religious, it features every major incident in the biblical life of Jesus including the flight from Egypt, Jesus’ early life (based on apochryphal gospels), Jesus’ fights against the Pharisees, Palm Sunday, throwing the money lenders out of the temple, the Last Supper and Jesus carrying the cross and rising from the dead.

The Road of Courage has only been published in a collection once before (in 1981, by Dragon’s Dream) as The Road of Courage – The Story of Jesus of Nazareth. It was also published in Dutch and French. That collection is long out of print and commands a considerable premium on ebay etc. when copies are for sale.

Mark, The Youngest Disciple (Written by Chad Varah the founder of the Samaritans, who died in 2007 and drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis (who died very recently, see Bear Alley for more details) ran in Eagle from volume 5, issue 46 to volume 6, issue 26 (12/11/54 – 01/07/55) over 34 episodes. The timeframe over which this tale is told is different from every other normal back page Eagle “True Life” story. Normally, they covered a lifetime but in the case of Mark, the tale spans just over seven weeks, from Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) until Whit Monday (seven weeks after Easter). Even then, most of the action takes place on just a few days.

The story is based around Mark rushing around Jerusalem getting into scrapes as he follows Jesus through this momentous time in Jesus’s life, opening with the Last Supper before moving quickly to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It features the trial of Jesus, setting Barabbas free, Jesus carrying the cross, his rising from the dead, the founding of the Christian church and the first baptisms, ending with Peter agreeing to let Mark work with him as a missionary.

Hampson's Road of Courage is a superb piece of work, his art the inspiration for an upcoming animated feature based on the story from Bill Melendez Productions; and Mark, The Youngest Disciple is, for me, a gem well deserving of republication, drawn by a fine Italian artist who went on to become a world-renowned architect. I hope you'll give it a try.


By Frank Hampson, Marcus Morris, Chad Varah, Giorgio Bellavitas

Century 21 Collection News

Century 21 Volume 4Details of the strips in Century 21 Volume 4 - the latest in a great series of books from Reynolds & Hearn featuring some of the best strips from the Gerry Anderson-inspired weekly comic TV Century 21 and other comics - have just been released.

FIREBALL XL5: Timeslip - Art by Mike Noble
FIREBALL XL5: The Sword of Damacles - Art by Mike Noble
STINGRAY: The Flying Fish - Art by Ron Embleton
THUNDERBIRDS: Destination Sun - Art by Frank Bellamy and Don Harley


THUNDERBIRDS: The Quake Maker - Art by Frank Bellamy
ZERO X: The Ghosts of Saturn - Art by Mike Noble
CAPTAIN SCARLET: Unity - Art by Ron Embleton
CAPTAIN SCARLET: Satellite 4 - Art by Ron Embleton
UFO: The Movies - Art by Martin Asbury

The book is available in paperback (ISBN 978 1 904674 15 3) from all good bookshops but there's also a limited edition hardback (ISBN 978 1 904674 14 6) on offer only from the publisher's web site (, signed by Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson.

Reynolds & Hearn have also announced that their Century 21 Annual 2011 - collecting stories from the classic TV Century 21 annuals from the 1960s - will now go ahead next year after all. Expect to see the book released in August. The released dummy cover, left comprises images from several of the original annual covers.

Dan Dare Figure: Latest Sneek Peek!



Here are the latest images of the upcoming Dan Dare figure which will be released later this year by award-winning toy figure maker Day2Day Trading. (Click on the images for a larger view)

As we've previously reported, the Dare figure is just the start of a full Dan Dare range from Day2Day, also known for their Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Sinbad ranges.

dan_dare_figure03_2010_02.jpg• More info:

Click here for previously released images of Dan Dare with helmet removed

In Review: Maw Broon's Cooking With Bairns

Maw Broon's Cooking With BairnsShe has been cooking for bairns since 1936 (in fact the exact same bairns since 1936) so Mrs Brown should really know a thing or two about cooking with children. With the help of Scottish cookery writer Catherine Brown, no relation but known as Auntie Catherine all the same, and her official biographer, DC Thomson managing editor David Donaldson, Maw Broon is back with her third full length cookbook.

The Broon's publishing empire has gone from strength to strength in recent years after the initial sales success of Waverley Books' lovingly detailed Maw Broon's CookbookMaw Broon's Cookbook
in time for Christmas 2007. This lead to a run of titles covering Burn's Night suppers, days out in Scotland and gardening tips as well as an apron and the one that tickled our fancy last Christmas, a wooden spoon.

The BroonsFrom a comics perspective, the Broons cookbooks have been lovingly compiled with lots of Broons artwork and story pages from the Sunday Post newspaper that the strip has been published in for all these years. They have been beautifully produced with the first book going as far as having virtually all the modern publishing information on a throwaway paper band that left the book itself as a supposed replica of Maw's own cook's notebook complete with hand written notes and recipes from the Sunday Post 'cut out and stuck in'. As such it worked just as well as a nostalgia book as it did as a Broons book or even as the cookbook that it was intended to be.

The BroonsMaw Broon's Cooking With Bairns is different to its two predecessors in that it is actually aimed at children and so the nostalgia level of the book is cut back to allow for visual explanations of the cooking skills required as well as a lot of groan inducing cookery jokes. Not all of the artwork is gone however and there are pages of Dudley D Watkins Broons art reprinted in the book while current Broon's artist Peter Davidson provides the cover and two lovely related colour frontispieces. The recipes are simply explained and often Scottish oriented - how about Chicken Stovies followed by Cranachan for dessert and if the children eat that all up, a walnut tablet as a treat (tablet being Scottish sugary fudge rather than something medicinal)?

Maw Broon's Cooking With Bairns is published by Waverley Books on 1 April 2010 and, like all Waverley Broons books, is very keenly priced at £9.99 for an A4 size hardback. This is one Broons book that I would place with the gardening and holiday books as a tie-in rather than with the other two cookbooks which deserve to get added to a collector's Broons shelf but, that said, I would still expect to be buying some of them as presents for several mothers in the near future.

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