Friday, February 11, 2011

Comic Cuts - 11 February 2011

From the "Just when I thought..." department: Just when I thought I'd solved some of my wireless internet problems...

When we moved we couldn't get cable TV, which was a pain but something we could live with. Virgin simply don't cover this area. As we had a package from Virgin that included the phone, we knew we were going to have to switch providers and as the new place already had a phone/broadband from Talk Talk, we took over the contract. Long-time readers might recall that we spent the first few days after our move talking, or trying to talk, to Talk Talk's customer services because the phone was dead. The problem resolved itself two days before an engineer was due to come around; we found out when the engineer in question phoned on the dead line to ask if he was still needed. Apparently, the problem was caused as part of the unbundling of Talk Talk lines from BT. They just hadn't bothered to inform Customer Services (who had no idea what could have been causing the problem).

But the wireless system was dismal and Talk Talk wouldn't replace the old router with a new router because we were not classed as a new customer (we took over from an existing customer). After six months of frustration, I've finally snapped and trailed bits of wire around the house so that I can move the router into my office during the day. I now get a 100% strength signal between router and computer! Yay!

Because I deal with some fairly big images, I use file-sharing sites as part of my day-to-day job. Problems with them in the past I've put down to the wireless connection, but I now think that some sites are possibly being "throttled" by Talk Talk when there's heavy traffic. For a few days we were getting download speeds from some sites at rates between 10-20kb/sec, the kind of speed we thought we'd left behind forever after ditching the dial-up modem back in 2000 and switching to broadband. Certainly not the service promised in their advertising: "Fast, reliable 24Meg broadband".

At the time of writing that little problem seems to have sorted itself out. Now all I need to do is resolve a couple of other issues with Talk Talk: (1) why, when I cancelled call forwarding (required by the previous owner but not required by me as I work from home and don't have a mobile phone to forward calls to), have they started charging for a different, more expensive package that includes call forwarding; and (2) when will they stop charging customers in this area for a "bundled" line when, back in August, I was told that the problems I had with the phone was down to them unbundling the lines. By the way, you won't find any mention of this additional £15.32 charge anywhere on their advertising.

Given my past experiences with dealing with their customer support, I'm not expecting a straight answer. But wish me luck anyway.

The solution, by the way, isn't a very good solution. Trailing wires aside, I still have to unplug the router from my office and reinstall it in the living room if Mel wants to use the internet. I'm squeezing internet time into a smaller window of opportunity and e-mails (which often require digging around the net to find information) are stacking up again. If you've asked about something and you haven't heard from me, that's the reason.

Having some down-time from the internet does mean that I've been pushing forward with the planned Hurricane/Champion Index. I've now completed the introduction, which clocks in at around 8,500 words, and laid out 22 pages. The big news is that the cover is being produced from a piece of original artwork. Anyone who has copies of the early issues of Hurricane will know that they had wraparound covers which would have looked spectacular if the printing had been better. The covers looked muddy and the colour plates were often misaligned, giving the covers a soft, slightly blurry look. Well, I've just heard from someone who has one of these covers (one of the best!) and I should have scans any minute now. This is fantastic news, as my thoughts on the cover design are to lay it out so that it echoes the original Hurricane covers and the A4, stapled format I'm using means that the artwork will be printed same size as it originally appeared—and you'll be able to lay the index flat to get the full glorious effect.

I should have some more news on this next week. The one thing I don't know yet is the final price as it will depend on a number of things, including the price of shipping from the printers. As this is definitely a short print-run project I can't promise it'll be cheap as I won't have the economies of scale of some publications, but I'm squeezing costs down by being my own writer, designer and tea boy.

Having been involved with the translations of the 12 Storm books that make up StormThe Collection, Storm, Normad and Ember are characters close to my heart. So I'm not sure what to make of the latest volume to appear under the Storm banner, which is apparently causing a lot of controversy over in Europe.

Since Don Lawrence's death—Don being the original artist of the Storm saga—there has been a new series of books written by Storm's creator Martin Lodewijk and drawn by the artistic team of Romano Molenaar and Jorg de Vos. I have the first two volumes they worked on and I must say that did a very good job of continuing the series, retaining the look and style that Lawrence laid down during his 25 years on the strip.

The first book of the new series was serialised in the Dutch monthly Mis, but there was no magazine to carry the next volume, so publisher Rob van Bavel took the unprecedented step and bought all the rights to Eppo, once one of Holland's favourite comics weeklies, which had folded in 1999. Storm was used as its launching pad, but the new version of Eppo has also revived a number of other classic Dutch strips.

The new regular team produced their third volume of the ongoing Chronicles of Pandarve in 2010 and a spin-off series has just been launched in the latest issues of Eppo with a new writer/artist team: Willem Ritstier and Minck Oosterveer, who were already contributing the Western detective agency series 'Ronson Inc.' to Eppo. The new book is entitled De Banneling van Thoem (The Exile of Thoem) and is the first volume of what is known as De Kronieken van de Buitenring (The Chronicles of the Outer Ring), still featuring Storm, Nomad and Ember but entirely separate from the Lodewijk-written continuation.

However, when the first four pages were released as a preview on the internet, the feedback was intensely negative, the main concern being the colouring of the strip, which had been outsourced to Caravan Studios in Indonesia. Originally a couple of colourists had been tried out without success and it seems that a decision was made to have the strip computer coloured. (I believe the above was one of the resulting early tryout pages and I'm not sure who the colourist is.)

Bart Croonenborghs, writing in The Comics Journal, summed up the controversy by saying that "Oosterveer's pencils were made almost unrecognizable by the Indonesian company's colouring work. Public outcry ensued and even though Oosterveer didn't have a hand in the colouring, most comments were rather vitrious and aimed at the pencil artist who took major offence at on one hand the reaction of the public and on the other the response of the publisher."

Croonenborghs described the artwork as "overly rendered and way too 'plastic'" and looking nothing like the work of Minck Oosterveer. "Storm is rendered like an eighties metal band runaway while Nomad's agile and nubile look has been transformed into an overly blocky steroid pumper."

You can see what Minck Oosterveer's artwork normally looks like at his official website and from the pencilled pages above. I have to admit that I agree with Croonenborghs' view that the computer colouring has done Oosterveer's work no favours whatsoever. 

Next week sees the continuation of Alfonso Font's 'Michael Strogoff' strip and I'll have some more looks behind the scenes with L. Ashwell Wood for you over the weekend.

And so to today's random scan after what has been the longest Comic Cuts column in quite some time. As I've mentioned the wraparound covers used on Hurricane, here's an image I cleaned up that probably won't get into the index.

(* Storm © Don Lawrence Collection; Hurricane cover © IPC Media; other artwork © Look and Learn Ltd.)


  1. Sympathies with your phone problems but I enjoyed the article and illustrations.

    Any chance one day of a Mytek the Mighty serialisation or even a limited edition index?

  2. I would love to see a Mytek the Mighty serialization!

    Wrt TalkTalk - we had no internet access through December. Every day the TalkTalk people had a different excuse: "It's your equipment," (it wasn't, I tried 3 routers or 2 computers) "It's the phone line," (nope, I had BT test it) "It'll be fixed by 5pm" (it wasn't). And on and on.

    Finally decided to switch to BT, who got us back online in a week. A few days later, I got a blanket email from TalkTalk apologizing for the disruption of services caused by upgrading their equipment. But nobody at TalkTalk had actually thought to tell any customers that at the start of December, nor to inform the call centre people in India.



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