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Friday, June 24, 2016

Alan Mitchell (1960-2016)

Alan Mitchell, best known for co-writing 'Third World War' with Pat Mills for Crisis, died suddenly on Wednesday, 22 June, aged 55, due to a long-term heart condition that was only diagnosed after his death. According to his friend Charles Shaar Murray, Mitchell had complained about  suffering a stomach bug, and although the symptoms persisted for over 48 hours he refused to go to hospital or even a GP. "He said he had trouble breathing and his mum gave him chest massage," continued Murray, "then he said he was hungry and she went to fix him something to eat – when she came back with his food he was dead..."

On hearing of Mitchell's death, Mills said “I'm stunned. Alan was a fantastic writer and a great guy. He wrote some powerful and important political, hard hitting, and funny observations about modern life. I will miss him greatly.”

Born in Bethnal Green, one of five siblings, and raised in Stepney, Mitchell was assocated with the Webbe Institute who set up boys' clubs in Bethnal Green and other London boroughs. He was editor of the Webbe Youth Club Magazine.

He joined ACME Comics in Brixton in January 1987, and was working there as a shop manager when Pat Mills met him. At the time Mills was writing 'Third World War' for Crisis and, having written the first sixteen episodes himself, he was looking for a co-writer to bring social and political authenticity to the direction he was planning to take the story. Mitchell did more than add perspective: the character of Chief Inspector Ryan, who embodied racism in the police force, was based on a PE teacher Mitchell remembered from primary school: "A military man. Dark, tall, lean and muscular with an angular, hawk face. About thirty-five years old. A disciplinarian who loved to use the slipper and the cane. A brute whose name was Ryan."

Ryan was one of the most memorable characters to appear in the series, especially when depicted by John Hicklenton. "When we got the first image of Ryan (the image became the cover of the first Ryan story in Crisis) I was blown sideways by an utterly different take on what I had in mind," Mitchell later recalled. "But in Ryan's expression, in his eyes, on the mask of his face was all the innards and more of this monster writ large on the page.

"Pat and I knew we were onto something. We also knew that John was THE artist with the lense to project this most difficult of characters onto the screens of our subconscious."

With only a couple of short breaks, Mitchell co-wrote the rest of the series between April 1989 and December 1990, working with Carlos Ezquerra, Duncan Fegrado, Sean Phillips, Richard Piers Rayner, Glyn Dillon, Steve Pugh and Robert Blackwell.

"Pat is a great framer of narrative but he really let me have my head on this story. We were tapping deep into the well of my political and cultural psyche. We were journeying along the corridors of my perceptions of white tribalism. Of the underbelly of all that seething, twisted, self-righteous bile that you might call racism but I refer to as 'the dark other'."

Mitchell also penned 'Prisoner of Justice' for the Crisis Amnesty International special in 1990, with artwork by Glenn Fabry, and, again with Mills, co-wrote 'Coffin' for Toxic in 1991 with art by Morak Oguntade.

Mitchell had met artist Jonathan Akwue whilst working at ACME and the two eventually collaborated on a strip entitled 'Scrolls of Imhotep', published in an Africentric magazine called The Alarm in the mid-1990s.

He co-wrote the ABC Warriors novel The Medusa War with Pat Mills, published under their Black Flame imprint by Games Workshop in 2004.

Mitchell subsequently moved away from writing comics to concentrate on work involving working with young people. In October 2005, he began working as an intensive support personal adviser with West Sussex County Council, working with young people aged between 8-19 on anti-bullying, supporting older young people in care and working with young people in care, a position he remained in until 2014.

In 2009, he became the co-founder of Buzz Comics, an attempt to create an online comics community for creators of all ages where they could post artwork and receive feedback and encouragement. The website would include tutorials and online comics and was supported by local artists Warren Pleece and Glenn Fabry and writer Indra Shann. Buzz Comics made their public debut with an illustration workshop for local children at the Strange New Worlds one-day convention on 24 July 2010 in Worthing, an independent science fiction, cosplay and comics convention co-founded by Mitchell.



Shortly before, in August 2009, Tara Huckle, the two-year-old daughter of Buzz co-founder, Steve Huckle, was diagnosed with a brain tumour; she survived through surgery thanks to the medical care of Royal Alexandra Hospital in Brighton and Kings College Hospital in London. Huckle founded Buzz Press to publish stories to raise money and Alan Mitchell and Indra Shann were heavily involved in setting up a website to create a graphic novel entitled 'The Magic Toybox', seeking sponsorship to raise funds for the Royal Alexandra.

According to the website (now closed), the story was about a sad little boy whose parents are always arguing, a troop of living toys and a magical toy box that will sweep them away on a quest to find a new guardian for the Heart of Harmony, and a magnificent jewel that produces love in the right hands, but is a deadly weapon in the wrong ones. The toys have a race against time before nefarious villains Naarg and The Monkey King attempt to steal the heart for their own wicked purposes.

Buzz Press published at least two short books in 2011: Jac and the Pumpkin Soup by Indra Shann and The Wolf Meets the Rabbit and the Rabbit Meets the Wolf by Agathe Senior. The company was dissolved in 2014.

Mitchell continued to collaborate with Shann and the two had recently completed a novel for children. Rumplestiltskin was to be published in 2016 under the pen-name Joe Leonard with a cover by Glenn Fabry. The plot concerns a witch who wants to raise a demon out of hell, and the young girl—Miranda—and her husband and son who are caught up in the witch's plans to systematically destroy their world.

Based in Brighton, he retained his deep interest in superhero comics and films, posting regularly on those subjects and others on social media.

He was married to Christiana Joseph in 1990, although they subsequently separated. He had six children and had recently become a grandfather.

1 comment:

John Freeman said...

Terrible news. Sympathies to all his family and friends. I only met Alan a few times, the last in 2012 where we had a long and interesting discussion about digital comics, followed up by email. He subsequently sent me some amazing art for the proposed "Buzz Comics" project (I think), which I was unable to persuade either of the two publishers I was working with at the time to invest in. So many amazing ideas and so much energy in the man.