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Friday, 20 May 2011

Read West, Young Man (and Woman)...

by Matthew Badham - cross-posted here and on the Forbidden Planet blog with full permission. Read the original version here

West, by Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable, is one of my favourite indie comics. It's the story of Jerusalem West, a conflicted anti-hero with a chequered and incident-filled past: smart, sophisticated storytelling that both subverts and embraces Western tropes.

I'm not the only one who likes it. The Forbidden Planet International blog reckon that "with this Morricone, Leone, Eastwood-inspired Western tale, Cheverton and Keable have delivered the goods."

Meanwhile, Comics on the Ration has called it "very well-written and well researched."

I decided to chat with Andrew and Tim about West and the following interview was the result:

An atmospheric panel from West: Stray Bullets. Art by Tim Keable.

Matt Badham: Please tell me how West first came about?

Andrew: Towards the end of 1993, I had packed in my job to look after our newborn son and started working Saturdays in the local comic shop to keep my sanity. Tim was one of the customers pointed out by the manager as "a good sort".

We began to discuss comics, movies, books and television shows, and have never really stopped. Our tastes are quite consistent with each other, and whenever we do disagree we have the best debates and arguments.

During this time, I had become quite prolific on the old Comics International group. I was later selected by moderator Phil Hall (based, I assumed, on my sarcastic and profane comic reviews on that group) to write for his online comics PDF magazine, Borderline. Initially, I did an opinion column called "The Blank Page", though I later branched out to reviews and even a few interviews (culminating in a Grendel feature/interview with Matt Wagner, who was my idol at the time).

Through Borderline I met such people as Jay Eales and Selina Lock, and was exposed to the British small press scene. Tim and I went up to a Caption event in 2003, held in the Oxford Students' Union bar. and were so enthused we began, separately, to get work published in The Girly Comic.

After having been friends for about a decade at this point, one day I asked Tim if we should probably work together on a short comic strip. His answer was, simply, "Okay. Something with cowboys or Romans."

Tim: I seem to remember Andy saying to me that Cowboys or Romans were definitely not his thing. Then, about a week later he called me up all enthused telling me he had an idea for a cowboy story! Then he had another one. And another...

It all kicks off in a story from West: Stray Bullets. Art by Paul Rainey
Matt: What experience have you guys got outside of small press comics? Tim, didn't you work on Doctor Who Magazine under John Freeman?

Tim: Yes, many years ago I did some one-off illustrations for DWM. I did these for John and for his successor, Gary Russell. Later I did some back cover CD illustrations for Big Finish's Dalek Empire which led to one more illustration accompanying an article in DWM about these. That would've been in about 2003. I also illustrated Jim Mortimore's Blood Heat. That was for Virgin's Doctor Who novels range in the 1990s.

Andrew: My experience, as far as writing goes, doesn't really extend beyond the stuff I did for Borderline and the two or three short strips I did for Factor Fiction (I think that 'Believers', the first West strip published in Violent!, was the third script I sent Jay and Selina). The debut issue of West, Justice, was the first time I ever wrote a full-length comic.

Matt: Had you both been 'creative types' since childhood? Always doodling or writing? Andrew, you draw as well as write don't you? Tim, do you write?

Andrew: Actually, I can't say that I was especially creative as a child, beyond the sort of thing all kids do. I had always drawn, copying characters from Marvel comics and, later, 2000AD, but it was never for more than my own amusement, though I would always add an illustration to the interior of friends' birthday cards. I barely scraped through O-Level art at school.

Writing short stories was something I experimented with in my teens, but that was just for fun too. I didn't do it with a view to submitting to magazines. Back then, it was all longhand and typewriters, and I had neither the patience nor the attention span.

If it hadn't been for Borderline (and having a PC word processor to organise my chaotic thoughts into actual writing) I wouldn't have been encouraged to write again, and wouldn't have become aware of the opportunities of the small press and desktop publishing.

Of course, once I did start writing again, I had more stories than I had artists to draw them. So that was a matter of sitting down, looking hard at the comic artists I liked (Ted McKeever, Mick McMahon, Matt Wagner, Nabiel Kanan) and teaching myself how to draw all over again.

Tim: I've been drawing ever since I can remember. At school other kids would get me to draw things for them. Usually Spitfires and the like -- I don't really write. It's not something that comes naturally to me.

'Guns on a Cold Morning' is about it, I'm afraid! That was a short West story that appears in Tall Tales, which was a collection of short stories we put out a couple of years ago. I was messing about in my notebook and sketched an image of these guns poking out of a saloon window. Then I thought about who might be behind those guns. Then I thought it'd be fun if they were all lying in wait for West.

I didn't really write it. I just drew it then did some dialogue afterwards. It was an exercise in page design really. I'd been looking at some of Dave Sim's crazy page layouts and I wanted to have a go at it. Then Andy had me add one line and suddenly it fit in with the big West story line. There's been a lot of serendipity about West.

Art by the talented Emma Price from the West: Stray Bullets anthology

Matt: So, how did West start to cohere into an ongoing after that first strip?

Tim: Andy just kept coming up with new ideas. I think it's best if he tells that one.

Andrew: Believers was, by publishing necessity (Violent! being an anthology title), only six pages long. I wanted it to be both a classic western, but also different. The last panel was the first thing that occurred to me: the gunfighter, his pistol emptied, facing off against a gang of men with only bluff and his reputation.

Writing the five pages leading up to that was simple enough, in retrospect. It was a classic barroom shootout. I didn't really give it any thought after it had been sent off to the editors. But every once in a while, Tim would ask me what happened next. I didn't know. We leave West there in the street, his gun empty, facing down two hardened gunfighters armed to the teeth, with only bravado to save him. That's the point of the story. Either the bad guys would draw and shoot him, or they'd both sheepishly wander off, their tails between their legs. Neither are good endings.

The only option -- as I wanted to keep working with Tim -- was to do a prequel. After a bit of brainstorming, I came up with what I thought was a simple Western ghost story. I checked with Tim that veering into fantasy territory was okay with him and started writing what became Justice. At some early point I may have naively thought I was writing another short strip that we'd send to Violent!, but it rapidly became clear that I was writing my first full-length comic.

As is usually the way with these things, the writing of one story lead to another, and a character for Jerusalem West began to form. I read up on a bit of Wild West history and the thing that struck me was that there didn't seem to be as many bad guys' and good guys' as the movies would have it. Outlaws would become lawmen and vice versa. Law-abiding men were easily driven to murder and men would travel, learning trades to survive. It seemed like one man could be, in a lifetime, many men to different people, depending on which stage of his life they'd known him.

As we'd already set the non-chronological template for West, I liked the idea of jumping around in time; it gave us the opportunity to tell many different types of story and to change West's personality a little bit to suit. In some stories, like 'Population 489' and 'The Last Bounty', he's proactive, with an agenda (even if it's not entirely clear from just that story what his agenda might be).

Some other tales, like 'Justice' and 'High Moon', simply feature West while the story essentially unfolds around him. And, as you say, 'cohere' is the right word. I have the whole story in my head (in fact, I have the final story already written), but it evolves in small ways all the time.

'High Moon', for instance, was a deliberate reaction to my noticing that the first two issues had West walk into a town, have an adventure and then leave. So I pointedly started 'High Moon' mid-adventure, told a separate story in the middle, and then had West abandon it halfway. I figured if the audience we'd built up at that point would go for it would quite happily read a comic with one and two half stories in then we were probably on to something.

Jerusalem West, in trouble as always. Art by Andrew Cheverton from West: Stray Bullets

Matt: Have you guys been surprised (gratified?) by the positive critical reception West has received?

Tim: Absolutely! Even more important to me is the vibe I get from the punters who regularly buy the book. I mean, sometimes it can be a real struggle creating something like this while doing a full-time job as well.

Enthusiasm is a strange viscous thing that grows and shrinks. Meeting the people who like what you do and keep coming back for more is very important as a driving force. That and the sheer vibe I get from reading one of Andy's scripts for the first time. It makes it all worthwhile.

As for critical acclaim -- I tend not to read our reviews. I get Andy to do it for me so I only get to hear about the good ones, lol!!

Andrew: Gratified, yes. It's always good to see that your hard work is rewarded. Surprised? If I'm honest, no. I don't mean that to sound conceited. What I mean is, I think anyone who creates something knows when they've done well, and every issue we finish is, I think, good work. If I didn't think my scripts were up to scratch, Tim wouldn't get to see them. And I have no doubt that if Tim thought his art was substandard, I'd never see that.

Every once in a while, Tim will pick out something in the script that doesn't work well -- as I will in the art -- but these are rare instances. By the time each issue is finished, it's the absolute best work we can do. I'm surprised, however, that so many people like it and like it as much as they do.

Having said that, I wasn't at all sure at the beginning who our audience would possibly be; after all, embarking on a multi-issue, non-chronological Western series and randomly switching genres with almost every issue isn't what you'd call a targeted plan. It's pretty much all of the things you're not supposed to do if you want to reach a market. But we've ended up with readers of all ages and both genders.

I like to think that's because we quickly steered away from using strong Deadwood-style profanity and portrayed strong female characters, on the few occasions women enter what is largely a male-dominated genre. As West is coming from the classic western background where his wife was killed, I think it's important to balance that with other women who aren't simply there to provide the men with vengeful motivation.

Jerusalem West under siege in a strip from West: Stray Bullets. Art by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Matt: It suddenly occurs to me that I haven't asked you chaps for the Hollywood-style' "high concept" that underpins West, which would be useful for those unfamiliar with the series.

Andrew: West is, at its heart (and as much as we can make it), self-contained stories set in the Wild West but that layer each other the more [of them] you read. For the first six issues (what we're now calling Volume One), it wasn't obvious that the whole thing hangs together as a totality; that every issue contributes something to a larger story the reader can't yet see.

Volume Two (so far comprising the two parts of 'Distance') makes these connections far more apparent. Those two issues build up to one name written on a piece of paper, the name of a seemingly random bad guy from a previous issue.

It was very satisfying to hear from people who read that and then went back and reread everything. That's what I want: to let people make their own connections from the clues we drop and to occasionally surprise them with something they never saw coming.

Tim: Okay. How about Classic Revenge Western meets Universal Horror taking in George Romero on the way'? How's that for a Hollywood high concept pitch?

Matt: Andrew, you mentioned that you've taught yourself to draw so you could illustrate your own comics. What fresh insights, if any, has that given you into the medium of comics? Also, do you think it's helped your writing at all?

Andrew: For a start, I've stopped writing so many 12-panel pages for Tim to draw! He hates those and now I understand why. When I write a script (and I even write myself a script for the stories I plan to draw), I like to keep beats and moments running through the pace and I'm fastidious about only switching scenes mid-page if it's part of the plot. So I have a scene of West and I'm often left with the choice: is this scene worth two pages of steady action, or can I fit everything into one page? If it's three or four pages, where are the breaks, the mini-cliffhangers and moments of action or dialogue that I can end a page with to keep the reader turning the page?

As soon as I isolate those moments, I have the pace of a scene and that's something that I thought I knew as a writer, but I have a more solid sense of it now that I draw.

As soon as I start edging over six panels [on a page], I start to fret about it. I write West full script and I like to write dialogue, so the tendency to fill the page is always there. Six panels is about our comfortable limit (though I tend towards five or seven, to keep Tim from using a standard 23 panel grid!), unless we're opting for multiple small panels or splash pages for effect, such as we used in 'Distance'.

For my own comics, I love tiny panels. I hate drawing big. It's something I'll need to learn, but my preference is small panels of close-up faces: intimate character-based comics. I'm lucky enough to get people asking me to draw their scripts. It's a learning curve but I like to be challenged, otherwise I won't get any better. But once these next couple of scripts for other people are done, I'm settling down to draw a couple of projects I want to write for myself.

It's not all about Wild West shoot-outs. A romantic scene from a West: Stray Bullets story. Art by Jenika Ioffreda.
Matt: Tim, have you got anything you want to say on that subject?

Tim: Only that I think Andy's scripts are more visual now. I should qualify that: they were always visual but there was plenty of dialogue too. In fact when we came to publish the collection, Andy told me he was struck by how verbose the older stories seemed to be compared with what he does now. These days he's much more confident using an image to tell the story.

I also happen to think he has a very beautiful art style and he's much more confident about placing blacks than I am!

Matt: Please tell me about the the various West comics that are coming out in 2011, plus any other projects that are ongoing for you, either as individuals or as a team?

Tim: As far as 2011's comics go I'll leave that to Andy. I don't really have time for any other projects although I try to do one-off paintings when I can and I'm always happy to take commissions.

Andrew: The current issue of West is Stray Bullets, which is a bumper-sized special (32 pages!), crammed full of short stories drawn by guest artists. As well as having art by Tim and me, we also have Paul Rainey, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Emma Price and Jenika Ioffreda.

It started out as a way to give Tim time to get ahead of his schedule, not only so that he isn't facing publishing deadlines all the time, but also to get him into a comfortable position to start work on our own bumper-sized West issue coming up soon that one's called 'Points West'.

In between both of these issues, though, we have 'Confederate Dead', which is the script Tim's drawing now.

For myself, I've recently drawn a script Rol Hirst wrote called 'Face For Radio', a one-pager for Simon M's The Sorry Entertainer, a newspaper comics anthology, and I'm writing and drawing a one-off comic called Pictures Made Of Light. Also, I'm writing a script for an AccentUK book, but I don't think they've announced that yet!

Andrew takes time out from West to illustrate
Rol Hirst's Face for Radio.
After that, both Tim and I are drawing some very short strips for a new Rol Hirst series, and I'm working with Chris Doherty (creator of the excellent Video Nasties) on a miniseries called The Whale House, which will be an off-kilter family drama, partially inspired by two types of movies the American awkward Thanksgiving get-together' movie and the British Old Dark House movie. I'm writing and Chris is drawing, but we're thrashing out the details and the characters at the moment.

Matt: Where do you hope to be in five years, with West and as creators?

Tim: In five years I hope West will be reaching a much bigger audience. Also I'd like to be able to spend more time on my drawing and less time in wage slavery!

Andrew: Last year was personally quite stressful and busy for me. I managed to keep on top of our commitments to West we finished both the issues we planned, and we finally had the collection published but I wasn't in any real frame of mind for much else.

We'd like to persevere with getting West: Justice into some comic shops and submitted to distributors. We actually took the book into a couple of small press-friendly London comic stores and were pretty much rebuffed out of hand. That was a knock-back, considering the reviews and feedback we've had on it as a professional-looking package. But, as with anything, I guess it's just a matter of plugging away at it. I have faith that it's a good story, well told. We'll get it finished one way or the other.

Thanks to Andrew and Tim for taking time to talk to Matt. For more on West, visit

Alan Moore, Storyteller

downthetubes has just received an advance copy of Alan Moore, Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge -- and it's simply stunning.

We'll be posting a review of this gorgeous-looking book nearer publication date, but the book, published by ILEX, is the first serious examination of the life, career and work of one of the UK's most distinctive and popular creative voices.

Fully illustrated throughout, featuring images from almost every Alan Moore story, it traces his creative development from his modest contributions to Northampton Arts Lab fanzines and local newspaper strips (who here remembers Maxwell the Magic Cat?) to the very top of his field, writing some of the most widely read and critically acclaimed comics and graphic novels ever produced: Swamp Thing, Watchmen, From Hell, Lost Girls, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta.

The book provides an unparalleled insight into the mind and work of this enigmatic and at times controversial creator.

Moore's extraordinary body of work is examined in depth, with rare and previously unseen material, glimpses into unfinished and abandoned projects and new light shed on overlooked masterpieces. With co-operation from Moore, and full access to his archives, Gary Spencer Millidge has written a book which will not only be essential reading for the writer's many fans, but for anyone interested in contemporary literature and pop culture.

Author Gary Spencer Millidge, who has been working in comics for over 20 years, is also the writer and illustrator of the acclaimed comic book series Strangehaven and author of Comic Book Design, also published by ILEX.

"Alan Moore: Storyteller is, I believe, the most comprehensive and accurate biography of one of Britain's most creative minds ever published," says Gary. "It's going to be presented in a lavish format; A 320-page 8.5" x 11" full colour hardcover with audio CD.

"The book not only includes an in-depth survey of all of Alan's comics creations, but also covers his musical projects, prose writings, magical performances and artwork in some depth. Some of his most renowned co-creators (including Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons, Eddie Campbell and David Lloyd) have provided never-before seen materials; an unpublished script for V for Vendetta, rare artwork (Captain Britain and Watchmen among others) and photographs.
"Alan himself was incredibly co-operative, generously making time for numerous interviews in person and by phone, providing family photographs and allowing me access to some of his personal notebooks which give unprecedented insight into his working techniques, from Lost Girls, From Hell and Voice of the Fire.
"Alan has also granted permission to reproduce the entire legendary Big Numbers chart, detailing the whole plot of the sadly abandoned project with Bill Sienkiewicz."
Even on a first 'skim', we think it's one of the best-ever biographies devoted to a British comics creator - check it out on publication!

Alan Moore, Storyteller is published in the UK by ILEX on 18th July; and on 5th July in the US by Universe.

Pre-order Alan Moore, Storyteller from

Pre-order Alan Moore, Storyteller from

Gary Spender Millidge: Official Site

Gary Spender Millidge: Official Blog

Wasted ends print edition with Issue 8, going digital

A quick reminder that the latest issue of adult comic WASTED is out now featuring  a stellar line up of talent including Kelly Jones, Mark Buckingham, Jason Brashill, Norm Breyfogle, John Wagner and Cam Kennedy.

Sadly, the WASTED team tell us this is the last print edition of the adult title - a combination of print and delivery costs and reduced sales mean they're moving to digital only editions in future.

"Terrestrial publication of WASTED ended with Issue 8," publisher Alan Grant told "From next issue on it'll be digital only, carried by DriveThru.

"A sad day, but still optimistic."

DriveThru already sell British titles such as 2000AD and Markosia, as well as many US comics.

Contributors to this final print issue also include (in no particular order): Tom Carney, Alex Ronald, Jon Haward, Gibson Quarter, Dave Alexander, Jamie Grant, Jason Wilson, Jim Devlin, Jules Boyle, Craig Collins, Curt Sibling, Martin Smith, Will Pickering, Alan Grant, Rob Baker, John Miller, Chaos Alexander, Adam Smith, Jane Turnbull, Paul McCann, Tom Green, Garry McLaughlin, Kent Tayler, Russ McPherson, Tony Rollinson and Adam Ford.

• Buy Wasted: 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Frank Hampson Dan Dare art in latest Compal Auction

Dan Dare original colour artwork by Frank Hampson for Eagle Vol. 7 No. 41 1956. Rogue Planet story. Like many Dan Dare cover artworks from the Hampson studio this board had some panels re-configurated to fit the format for publication of later Eagle overseas issues.
Early issues of Mickey Mouse Weekly and The Dandy, Commando art, 'Dan Dare' art by Frank Hampson, Thunderbirds art by Frank Bellamy and some stunning covers from IPC's Thrilling Picture Library and other titles by Giorgio De Gaspari are just some of the lots in the Summer 2011 auction at Compalcomics.

Compalcomics tell us their recent March catalogue was a complete sell-out highlighted by £441 for the first Beezer comic with free gift Whizz Bang, £330 each for Kit Carson, Dick Daring and Spy 13 front cover artworks from Cowboy and Thriller Picture Library, £2200 for Frank Bellamy's action-packed Thunderbirds artwork and an average price of £80 each for our 'one owner from new' war years Dandy comics.

The first Doctor Who And The Daleks jigsaw
'In The Tardis' (later withdrawn by the BBC)
More examples of all of these form just part of the massive British section of the new auction, which also includes Doctor Who jigsaws, copies of DC Thomson's early comic Magic and as a 1926 book featuring the original 'Invisible Dick' - who was reinvented for Sparky comic in 1965 as well as appearing in the original Dandy.

Early comic art from Film Fun's war years includes strips featuring George Formby and Laurel and Hardy by George Wakefield. The Magic comics offered include Easter and Christmas editions, along with penultimate Issue 79 which features the editor's apology for the forthcoming demise of the title due to wartime paper shortages.

Denis Gifford's run of G G Swan annuals also comes to an end with runs of Fairies and Funnies albums but of special interest is Gifford's own Giant Monster Comic Book; 92 pages of original artwork in a mock-up annual that never made publication and a unique piece of British comics history.

The 1956 Frank Hampson board of Dan Dare artwork is sure to excite strong interest with its estimate of £800-1000. A similar board from 1951 was sold in France recently for 3000 euros.

Send For Spitfires - an original 63 page complete story artworks for Commando War Stories In Pictures No 83 (1961). By Julio 'Chiche' Medrano.
But the star lot this catalogue concerns the ever popular Commando - the complete illustrated 63 page artwork from Commando 83 'Send For Spitfires', a stunning set from the pen of Julio Medrano. Rarities also include  six Thunderbirds giveaways only redeemable with Dutch margarine wrappers.

Also up for grabs are early issues of Mickey Mouse Weekly - sure to appeal to Disney fans, as will the early British Donald Duck annuals offered. With two (if faded) Frank Bellamy Thunderbirds boards, rare TV Century 21 Holiday Specials, a smashing Frankie Stein piece by Robert Nixon for Monster Fun Annual 1980 and even a 2000AD Issue 1 - complete with free space spinner! - there's plenty here for British comics fans to savour.

• Bids for the Summer 2011 auction at Compalcomicswill be accepted until Tuesday 7 June at 8 PM UK time. Web:

• If you have a question about any of the items in the catalogue, please send an email to Compalcomics director Malcolm Phillips at

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Caption goes austere for 2011

Caption, the longest running comic convention in the UK is back for 2011, celebrating small press and indie press comics.

This year's theme is Austerity, as the organisers thought this might be appropriate to the current climate in the UK. So, this could cover anything from the cheapest way to produce comics, to comics about self-sufficiency/grow your own, to revolutionary thoughts caused by austerity... however you want to interpret the theme.

As usual the event won't be having dealer/exhibitor tables, but will instead run the Caption table. This allows comic publishers to drop off your comics, they'll sell them for you for a 10% fee of anything sold, while you enjoy the rest of the con... or just sit in the bar!

More news on guests, workshops & panels will be added to the event's facebook page as they confirm items.

Attendance fee is £5 a day (to be confirmed), or you can volunteer to be a gopher during the weekend for free entry.

• Suggestions, queries and contact: More info on Facebook:

Poster designed by David O'Connell (Tozo).

Thundercats Returns to British Comics

Hot on the heels of news that Disney have issued an edict that Panini UK can no longer originate Marvel superhero comic strip comes word that the company has grabbed the rights to a title where new comics are almost certain to feature - Thundercats, which will relaunch as an animated series later this year.

Thundercats has a proud history as a comic in the UK - Marvel UK published 129 issues of a regular title based on the original 1980s animated show. To date, it is the longest-running comic associated with the franchise and included work by artists such as Tim Perkins and Martin Griffiths.

Now, LicensingBiz reports that MV Sports, Rubies, Character World and Panini have all joined the programme for rejuvenated 1980s brand, which starts screening in August on Cartoon Network.

Warner Bros. announced a new ThunderCats animated series last year, produced by Japanese animation studio Studio4°C who have been in charge of recreating the series with a new, anime-influenced style. Warner said that the show would be “a sweeping tale combining swords and science and boasting ferocious battles with the highest of stakes…”

Voice actor Larry Kenney, who portrayed Lion-O in the classic ThunderCats series from the 1980s will be appearing in the new series, this time playing the role of Claudus, Lion-O’s father. The Thundercats Lair site also reports that veteran voice actor Matthew Mercer also revealed on his Twitter feed that he would be voicing Tygra.

Panini will be publishing the first Thundercats magazine, joining Bandai, which has a toy range including four-inch basic action figures, eight-inch classic collector figures, a Deluxe ThunderTank Vehicle with figure, a deluxe role-play sword, Staction PVC figurines and collectable limited edition porcelain statues.

 "We're all incredibly excited about the return of Thundercats and we are looking forward to reinventing though carefully respecting the heritage of this classic 80s brand," says Paul Bufton, general manager of WBCP UK. "With our licensee partnerships shaping up and amazing retailer feedback there is every reason to believe that Thundercats could return to become one of the hottest boy brands of recent times."

A Thundercats movie was announced back in 2007 but is still in development.

While the news about Disney edict on the Marvel title has disappointed many, Panini UK will still be originating boys adventure strip - so let's hope some of the hot talents they already employ on Marvel Heroes and other comics move to this new Thundercats title.

I went to the Bristol Comic Expo and all I got was These Great Comics...

My 'haul' included The Only Good Dalek,
an intriguing preview from Corvus Press,
and FCBD books thanks to Diamond
The Bristol International Comic Expo this year wasn't the weekend I was expecting, largely because of woes caused by French strikers (see news story), but I did have a good time and picked up some smashing indie titles along with catching up with pro creators (special thanks to Lew Stringer for organising evening eats and Mike Collins for a signed copy of The Only Good Dalek!).

As usual, given that it was a working weekend, touching base with the likes of Sydney Jordan, PJ Holden, Gordon Rennie, Jim Alexander, Kev Hopgood, Leo Hartas, Jasper Bark, John McCrea, Joel Meadows, Mike Conroy, Ferg Handley, Jim Campbell, Mike Collins (him again!), Lew Stringer, Harry Markos (of Markosia), Simon Frith (of Panini UK), Tim Pilcher (Comic Book Alliance) and many others to chat about different projects, both potential and actual. This meant I was either at the STRIP Magazine table (where Kev Hopgood was to be found drawing sketches ranging from Thor to the Golden Age Green Lantern, as well as talking about his new strip, 'Lawless') or racing around trying to find people - even armed with a mobile phone, not always easy!

Kev Hopgood's 'rough' of Thor.
Inevitably then, as usual, I missed all the panels - and there was a great line-up which included Shaky Kane, David Hine, Charlie Adlard and Richard Starkings; Bryan Talbot; Cy Dethan and co talking about the brilliant-looking Slaughterman's Creed; and many more. But what I didn't miss was the obvious energy of the small/indie press creators lurking on the fifth floor of the Mercure.

While it was largely pro publishers ensconced at the Ramada - it was great to see Cinebook with a terrific display of their titles, with Orbital creator Serge Pelles on hand for signings and sketches, meet the team at Dalen Books, catch up with Harry Markos at Markosia and touch base with the Panini UK crew and the team at SelfMadeHero - I got a different vibe from the main room they were in, perhaps because it was a mix of dealers and mainstream publishers whose energy for such things is obviously tempered by the need to drum up business. At the Mercure, which did feature some pro publishers and creators such as Charlie Adlard, Sean Phillips, Com.X, Time Bomb and Richard Active Images Starkings, there was obviously that need, too - but I got the sense that there was much more fun being had in the process.

Top picks? As usual, I headed first to the Futurequake and Zarjaz stand, where the latest issues of both titles were on sale. Stand out strips for me in FQ have to be 'The Secret Origin of Suspension X' by Shaun Avery and Jim Lavery,  'A Free Ride' by John Howson and Jack Davies and 'Robo Sapiens' by Mark Smith and Steve Howard. The latest Zarjaz, and ABC Warriors special, is a must, and not just for the knock out Cliff Langley cover; 'Little Jobs' by The Emperor and Conor Boyle (Conor showed me some of his amazing work, which deserves wider exposure), but the line up is hugely impressive, including strips by the likes of Lee Robson, Conor Boyle, Mike Carroll, Ben Clark, Jim Campbell, Gibson Quarter, Kev Levell and plenty more. Track a copy down, or face a Meq Quake Big Job on you!

What else? Well, there was Martin Eden promoting his wonderful Spandex title - he had admiring fans surrounding his fans every time I tried to catch up with him, but I have read Issue 4 of this brilliant superhero-inspired title and you should track it down asap (for Ordering Info just click here).

Mirabilis co-creator Leo Hartas was also there, promoting the book (copies available soon!), alongside superb artist Huy Truong, creator of Pwanda panda.  After chatting with Leo I bumped straight into John Maybury, creator of the wonderful title The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113. John told me he'd had some success with his Kindle edition of the title - Issue 9 completes the latest story arc - and we chatted about maybe getting his gorgeous creation onto iPhone.

Cy Dethan, Nic Wilkinson and Vicky Stonebridge were also actively promoting Slaughterman's Creed - a brilliant new title from Markosia. Known for his horror work, and Starship Troopers, Cy's burning energy to tell great tales should be put to use by more publishers.

Matthew Craig, creator of Trixie Biker, stopped by the STRIP Magazine stand (despite being madly busy all weekend) to promote his work and ask about the Strip Spotlight Challenge (as did a lot of other creators, including Mike Carroll and Spiros Derveniotis). Trixie's a popular title which he first created back in 2003  - a superhero that not only enjoys her powers, but revels in them - check out the info on his site.

Bearded Skull Comics (Facebook link) also caught my eye. Set up in early 2007 by Jamie Lambert and Dave Clifford, they're the publishers of Dexter's Half Dozen, a World War 2 pulp/horror following the adventures of a ragtag group of British soldiers as they thwart the ever growing occult threat of the Nazis. The title's reached its sixth issue and the art style is a mix of near-cartoon and adventure that hasn't quite coalesced completely but is worth taking a look at.

I'm just scraping the surface of the impressive line up of indie pressers, though - I barely had time to talk to Andy Winter from Moonface Press, and I missed the Etherington Brothers, who had their usual impressive stand promoting their brilliant work - and Roger Langridge. Graham Pearce had a new issue of the ever-brilliant Sergeant Mike Battle on sale, and I'll try to give that a better plug later in the week. I did pick up a copy of Slumdroid from Scar Comics, thrust into my hands by writer Benjamin Dickson. With intense art from Tony Suleri, it's another title you should track down.

Basically, the mix of pro, aspiring, indie and enthusiastic at the Expo was simply stunning. I haven't been to the event for a couple of years and can see I've been missing out - it's become a terrific and accessible platform for new talent that we need more of. And we definitely need more people dressed as an Alien. Especially Aliens that you see later joining the smokers fro a cigarette - although I have to say, I didn't actually see the Alien smoking, which would have been positively surreal. (Check out some pictures over on Terry Hooper's blog).

Overall, it was a great, family friendly enthusing and energetic comics event. Organiser Mike Allwood tells me various fund raising activities raised at least £19,000 for the Prince's Trust (helped by the £900 paid for the Dave Gibbons Watchmen print art); there was a real buzz to the indie creators' rooms at the Mercure. On the downside, some creators told me they didn't cover their costs - spending no doubt hit by people being more careful with their money in times of economic depression - and the split site isn't popular with everyone, so it's great that most events will be back at Brunel's Old Station next year.

Thanks to Mike and his very hard working team for their dedication and making everything run so well, and inviting me along. If I'd had copies of Strip Zero it would have been icing on the cake!

• The Bristol International Comic Expo returns 12th - 13th May 2012 at  Brunel's Old Station adjacent to Temple Meads Mainline Station and Ramada City Inn Hotel, Bristol. 

• Official web site:

• Small Press Site:

Other Reports...

• Blimey! It's Another Blog About Comics: Another Enjoyable Expo

• Comic Bits Online: Who Was Everyone Talking About at the Expo?
• Comic Bits Online: What Every Convention Needs

• Martin Eden (Creator of O-Men and Spandex): My Thoughts on Bristol

SFX Report by Stacey Whittle
"...first panel of the weekend was High Noon with 2000AD hosted by PR droid Michael Molcher with a packed panel of artists and creators. This panel ran into a few problems; more creators than room being the first, and no microphones which was a continuing problem for the Ramada panels for the rest of the weekend and also some technical problems. Mr Molcher manfully tried to keep the panel together, encouraging the audience to participate in 2000AD bingo (a genius idea) for prizes, but unfortunately I think the problems outweighed the plus points here."

Monday, 16 May 2011

Opinion: British Marvel is Not American Enough for Disney

Mighty World of Marvel Issue 1
published in 1972
by Tony Ingram

For about forty years now, Marvel have had a close relationship with Britain and its comics industry, dating back originally to Odhams Press and their groundbreaking weekly comic Smash!, in which was published the first ever UK originated strip to star a Marvel character, the ever incredible Hulk. Later, rather better known to most, came the sterling efforts of Marvel UK themselves, who in the 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s produced a huge amount of material - including Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s Captain Britain, arguably one of the most incredible pieces of sequential storytelling anyone has ever published, not to mention Stoke’s and Parkhouse’s epic Black Knight series, Death’s Head, Doctor Who, the sadly near forgotten but utterly brilliant Timesmasher and several dozen more I could mention but won’t.

Captain Britain Weekly Issue 3
published in 1976
In short, British originated Marvel comics are a long standing tradition which has in the past given us some of the best comics ever produced and brought some hugely talented creators into the Marvel fold.

Well, not anymore. Since Marvel UK was sold off in 1996, Panini UK (who currently hold the license to publish Marvel material in Britain) have continued to publish some UK originated material featuring the Marvel characters, including old Marvel UK stalwarts such as Captain Britain and Death’s Head. Mostly, these stories have seen print in titles aimed at younger readers, including the currently ongoing series’ Marvel Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man.

But now, Marvel’s owners Disney have issued an edict to the effect that from now on, all material featuring Marvel characters must originate in the US.

Why they’re saying this is unclear, but the effect as far as Panini are concerned is obvious; no more UK originated material might mean no more Marvel Heroes (and, indeed, we gather the title has been cancelled) or Spectacular Spider-Man - a sad loss as those magazines currently act as a gateway into Marvel for younger readers who then move on to Panini’s reprint titles and possibly to the US originals.

Worse yet, it also means there's no superhero no work for the talented British based freelancers who currently produce those strips - considerations which, of course, probably matter to Disney not at all, since Marvel Comics account for a minuscule percentage of their worldwide profits, and licensing revenue from Panini an even more minuscule percentage of that.

Still, on the face of it, Disney’s decision makes little sense. It will deprive creators of work and Panini of revenue, which admittedly isn’t their problem (and may even be seen as a plus by them, since Panini are in competition with them in other areas), but more to the point it will deprive a section of their fan base of that way in to Marvel I mentioned, which can’t be good for business in the long run. And the only justification for it seems to be creating a uniform brand under Disney’s total control.

I guess compared to that typically Disney desire for homogenisation, the UK market, and indeed those other foreign markets probably also affected, are small potatoes and largely irrelevant to them. But it’s a sad day all the same, particularly for those kids who are going to lose their favourite comics, and I can’t help thinking it will ultimately just serve to further diminish an already dwindling comics industry worldwide.

Not that Disney will care about that either. After all, in the end it will be much cheaper just to close down the presses and manufacture a few more Incredible Hulk lunchboxes. And the end may not be that much longer in coming, if Disney’s current approach is anything to go by…

Army Museum goes Commando

Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics
Scenes of action and adventure will fill the walls of the National Army Museum as 'Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics', their newest exhibition, kicks off on Thursday 1st September 2011.

This colourful and dynamic exhibition explores the heritage of the war comic from its initial conception, its heroic subject-matter and its continuing popularity - and boasts original Commando equipment and histories from the Museum's Collection as well as the iconic dagger featured on the front of the Commando comic.

Launched in partnership with leading publisher, DC Thomson, the exhibition will showcase key artwork and illustrations that draw on the 50 years of the Commando series.

Established by Royal Charter to tell the story of the Land Forces of the Crown, the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, explores the impact of the British Army on the story of Britain, Europe and the world; how Britain's past has helped to shape our present and our future and how the actions of a few can affect the futures of many.

"War comics have huge appeal for all," says exhibition curator Robert Fleming. "They're packed with bold, brave tales and images which communicate the complexities of conflicts. The National Army Museum is delighted to work with DC Thomson to host this exhibition and celebrate Commando’s 50 successful years."

"Everyone at Commando is delighted that this major exhibition of artwork is to be hosted by the National Army Museum, as one of the key activities of our 50th anniversary celebrations," adds Calum Laird, editor of Commando at DC Thomson. "We're sure that fans of Commando old and new, will revel in this display of comic art at its best, exhibited so dynamically by the National Army Museum."

Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics opens 1st September 2011. The exhibition's web page on the National Army Museum web site is here. The National Army Museum is situated on Royal Hospital Road, directly next door to the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Commando comic:

• National Army Museum:

Commando © 2011 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd

Doctor Who Classics: Planet of the Dead re-mastered

US publisher IDW is currently publishing early Doctor Who stories from the Seventh Doctor era and the latest issue, on sale now in the US, features a rather special anniversary story by none other than myself and the wonderfully talented Lee Sullivan.

First published in Doctor Who Magazine in 1988, 'Planet of the Dead' (not to be confused with the more recent Who TV movie) was commissioned by then Doctor Who strip editor Richard (Elephantmen) Starkings to mark the 25th anniversary of the show. As my first Doctor Who story, you can imagine a tale featuring all the Doctors was something of a challenge, but thanks to Richard's editing and Lee's smashing art it turned out well, I think, and proved popular with readers.

Now coloured by Charlie Kirchoff, the story features alongside another great tale, 'Keepsake' by Simon Furman and John Higgins.

I'm pretty sure that this new edition is the first time my name has ever appeared on the cover of a US comic, so I'm pretty chuffed to be up there with such illustrious company.

'Planet of the Dead' was a two-part story featuring several past companions and the first seven doctors - in likeness, if not as the originals - and was intended as an anniversary tribute. The monsters of the piece were the Gwanzulum - shape-changing aliens that were also slipped into several other Marvel titles in the same month, to see if readers noticed their secret invasion.

Working with editor Richard Starkings was valuable experience for me - not just on this story but other titles such as The Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats. Richard devoured writing and comic art books and was, and is, a mine of information on the comics form. He taught me how to edit my strips, shape them better.

There was one instance on a Thundercats story I wrote, where economic circumstance force the cutting of a strip from 11 to five pages overnight and I argued it couldn't be done. He did it with consummate ease -- it was a very useful lesson!

Lee Sullivan, who also drew illustrations for a text story, 'Scream of the Silent', for the Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Special at around the same time, recalls that 'Planet of the Dead' was the first strip he’d drawn extensively featuring humans.

"I’d only just done a couple of strips for Transformers, he notes. "In one of those I had drawn a likeness of Richard Branson and that proved to be a 'career-moment' because, as a result, when Richard Starkings was assigning Who scripts to artists, he swapped mine to 'Planet' from 'Time and Tide', which Dougie Braithwaite ended up drawing. Suddenly I was having to deal with likenesses of all the 'dead' companions and all the Doctors, as well as being very aware of all the great artists I was following!

"It was a dream come true, though. I had followed Who in strip form since the first appearance of the Neville Main 'Hartnell' in TV Comic.

Of all the Doctors he had to visualize, the Seventh proved the most elusive to capture. " I think everyone found him hard – his face has an infinite variety of expressions," Lee says. "I find that I have to build a ‘virtual model’ of the character in my head, so that the drawings look consistent from panel to panel, but every photo of Sylvester shows a different face."

IDW's Doctor Who Comic Classics aren't officially distributed in the UK, but IDW told us earlier in the year that the digital edition will be available here, so look out for it when it's launched. 'Planet of the Dead' was, of course, also published in black and white by Panini, in their collection of early Seventh Doctor strips, A Cold Day in Hell.

They've done a great job on this Classics collection. I just wish more people in the UK could see it!

• IDW Comics is at:

Lee Sullivan's Official web site

More about Planet of the Dead on the TARDIS Index File

In Review: Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 1

Forty years ago the weekly magazine Look and Learn was a parental purchase in many British households as parents saw its articles as educational while its younger readers saw its comic strips, including the now legendary Trigan Empire, as exciting. Many of those strips maintained the publication's educational remit by being adaptations of classic novels but 1971 saw the start of a aviation themed, Great War based strip entitled Eagles Over The Western Front written by Trigan Empire's Michael Butterworth and artist Bill Lacey.

Schoolboy Harry Hawkes was too young to volunteer for the military at the outbreak of World War One but is called up for the Royal Flying Corps by Easter 1915. Having learnt to fly the flimsy biplanes of the time, he is initially posted to France with his friend Entwistle to fly unarmed reconnaissance sorties over the front lines. There he encounters the world's first true fighter plane, the German Fokker E1, which is taking its toll on British pilots. By winter 1915 he is flying DH2 fighters as the British begin to take the fight back to the Germans.

The 80 page book begins with the nine single weekly pages from July and August 1971 before moving on to its regular two pages pages per week. Unlike other strips of the time the stories do not follow a discernible pattern of (say) 10 pages per story and so there are both long stories and short stories in the mix. This means that Eagles never gets into a rhythm with the reader knowing that a story is about to finish because of the number of pages that he has read and some of the stories end very abruptly, as they would have in reality, with the death of a main character.

While you would expect a comic strip about a fighter pilot to involve our hero jumping in his plane and flying off to shoot down many of the enemy before returning safely home, in Eagles, especially in the early stories, the reason for our hero not to make it back to base is more often because of mechanical failure of the aircraft he is flying rather than any enemy action against him. As for shooting down the enemy, it is a plot point in at least two of the stories in Volume 1 that Harry has not actually shot down a single German plane despite be considered a good pilot. It all makes for an ongoing story that is interesting in its non-conformity to the expected rules of an aviation comic strip and it certainly makes the reader think about the frailty of the planes that RFC pilots were flying back then without the safety of parachutes.

The book begins with a six page feature article setting the scene of both the beginnings of the Royal Flying Corps and the Great War itself. In the interests of transparency Bear Alley Books publisher Steve Holland asked me, as the resident aviation enthusiast, to proof read an earlier version of this article for accuracy and it was indeed accurate giving more than enough background for readers to appreciate the subtleties of what the characters were experiencing in those early years of the war before the conflict settled into the more familiar format of trench warfare. Indeed my main comment then was that the article focused on the historical side of the comic strip rather than on its creators but with Volumes 2 and 3 to come in June and July 2011, Steve assured me that both Butterworth and Lacey would each receive feature articles in them. Rather than reusing frames from the story, Steve uses WWI aviation illustrations from Look and Learn painted by Wilf Hardy to liberally illustrate the feature while the book's cover is a dynamic WWI scene featuring Brisfit fighters painted by Graham Coton since Bill Lacy was never given the chance to illustrate Eagles for the cover of the weekly magazine.

Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 1 makes for an interesting and sometimes thoughtful read without missing out on the excitement or entertainment that one would expect of a good comic strip of its era. With more than half of all the pages in this book and its two sequels being scanned from the original art boards, the artwork quality is as good as it can possibly get and shows that Bear Alley Books can give well established companies, that are also reprinting similar B&W British comic strips from the era, a run for their money.

There are more details of Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 1 on the Bear Alley Books blog including how to purchase it.

You can read part of Eagles Over The Western Front on the Bear Alley blog.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Read Strip Magazine Issue Zero

Print Media Production has published an online version of STRIP Magazine Issue Zero, which outlines some of the comic strips they plan to publish and the 'Strip Spotlight' Challenge for comic creators.

Sadly, the print version of STRIP Magazine Issue Zero - which was to have been be given away free to Bristol International Comic Expo visitors this weekend - has been caught up in an industrial dispute at Charles de Gaulle airport, France.

The promotional magazine was a victim of a walkout by staff at the airport's FedEx depot - and there is no indication of when the walkout might end. (Full details here on the STRIP Magazine blog)

As you can imagine, as the title's editor, this left me feeling pretty gutted this weekend - but we put the STRIP Magazine table to good use with Lawless artist Kev Hopgood cheerfully joining me to draw sketches for Expo atteedees.

There will still be a STRIP Magazine panel at the Expo on Sunday afternoon and I'll be around to talk about our plans at other times.

Wrapped in a cover by Smuzz, Issue Zero features background on key strips in the new comic magazine such as Black Ops Extreme by me and PJ Holden, Warpaint by Phil Hester and John McCrea, Age of Heroes by James Hudnall and John Ridgway, Savant by Jim Alexander and Ferrer and Carlos Vila - plus some highlights of the upcoming Print Media Productions graphic album range.

There's also a special competition in the Sampler which will offer comic creators the chance to have their work in the title when it launches later in 2011.

Read STRIP Magazine Issue Zero Online

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