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Friday, September 26, 2014

Comic Cuts - 26 September 2014

I'm writing this on Thursday morning because it's Mel's birthday. We were out last night and tonight is our only chance to catch our breath because we're out Friday and Saturday nights. Think lovely thoughts of Mel... she's put up with me for 21 years, protecting the world from my terrible jokes and the incessant stream of stupid thoughts that stumble around my brain that need to be spoken out loud. So you should be thanking her for her years of dedicated service, dealing with me so you don't have to.

It was a bit of a race against time yesterday to complete a second draft of the Harry Bensley/Man in the Iron Mask story, which I wanted to get done before we went out. The current version runs to just over 12,000 words and I'm waiting on some certificates to confirm one or two new details that I've added—like the identity of a previously unreported child. If you read the story as it was serialised earlier this month, the main thrust of rewriting it has simply been to add more detail. The serial version has been removed ahead of its ebook appearance.

I've also been working on a second, similar piece that I suspect will also be serialised on Bear Alley. These essays take quite a chunk of time to write because I'm researching as I write and you end up digging around in places that won't necessarily become part of the final story—but you still have to find out what you can so that you know for sure that a particular thread leads nowhere. My most sustained piece of writing was The Trials of Hank Janson, which was 100,000 words written in twenty days... but it required twenty years of research to put me in a position where I could do that.

And I wouldn't want to do that again. It was quite tiring.

I did once write a 30,000-word magazine supplement in a week. Again, not recommended. This was back in 1999, the days of dial-up modems and around the time that major companies were introducing ADSL lines. Publicity companies welcomed this innovation as it meant that they could post images behind a password-protected wall that editors/designers could download, saving the publicity company tons of cash because they no longer had to produce photographs or slides and post them out to magazines.

In theory, a 1 megabyte photograph could be downloaded on a 500kbit/s [kilobytes per second] ADSL line in 2 seconds.

However, because I was freelance and working from home, I didn't have ADSL. I did have a new, dedicated phone line put in, with a maximum download speed of around 43kbit/s, or so the phone company promised (I think... it was fifteen years ago!). The actual speed varied but was usually about 12kbit/s tops and once hit a maximum of 18kbit/sec. Broadband, for comparison, should be a minimum of 256kbit/s over a phone line, but if you've ever downloaded anything you'll know from watching the green bar crawl that it can be far slower. Ditto our old phone line which often worked at around 6-8kbit/s and any lengthy pause meant that the signal was lost and the photo request cancelled, half-an-hour into a download. All you could do was swear and start the download again.

So... this magazine supplement I was putting together back in 1999 was about the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. The Phantom Menace was the first new film in 22 years and my bosses at Trinity Publications (part of Trinity Mirror) were thinking about putting out a science fiction magazine called Quest. Not my idea (or my title!) but I was happy to go along with it. And they decided, very late in the day, that the new Star Wars movie was a good place to launch a 64-page supplement to the magazine that I was editing at the time, Model Mart. There was bugger-all budget and they wanted it in two weeks because it was going to be printed in colour.

Muggins here had to stay up all night for a couple of nights trying to download every available photo from the publicity company so we had illustrations. I was praying that the lack of any other traffic on the line might meant that the connection held a little better. I still had glitches, including one picture that had already taken 45 minutes to download reaching 98% downloaded before the line crapped out and I was left with a near complete file that I was unable to open. Nor was the system smart enough for me to simply download the missing 2%... I had to start all over again.

Problems of a couple of sleepless nights were compounded by the fact that I didn't have any writers able to deliver in the time available. By luck one guy had an interview lined up with Ray Park which he promised to turn around in almost no time at all. I was also in touch with a Star Wars fan who was writing some features on the previous Star Wars movies for the monthly magazine I was working on; he quickly put together a short piece that I wove into a longer narrative about the history/making of the new film and how we learned all about the development and production of the film through this then relatively novel thing called the internet.

When it finally appeared, Quest was a lovely-looking failure. It didn't get the advertising the company had hoped for, probably because it was being bagged with a cheap black & white "mart" title; I think there was a degree of cannibalizing Model Mart and trying to persuade our regular b/w advertisers to switch to colour... which most of them resisted.

Anyway, enough rambling. I've forgotten what the point of all this was. Oh, yes. Writing this new serial. It seems likely that I'll run it here because it's going to involve quite a lot of research and I don't like to leave Bear Alley bare for any great length of time. It's the gateway for Bear Alley Books, which is where I'm earning my meagre living these days, so I need the visitors.

On Sunday I wandered around town following a bit of the Sale Trail. This is a first for me and a fantastic idea... people set up tables in their gardens on in public areas and flog off stuff they don't want anymore. Coordinated centrally, there was a Sale Trail map produced so you could see where tables were located. I strolled down the road to the quay and picked up three decent DVDs for £3.50 total. The bulk of the items for sale seemed to be baby clothes and there were a lot of old kids' games and toys. Nothing from the childhood of this fifty-two-year-old, but spin-offs from the bizarre and surreal In the Night Garden and the like.

We don't watch many kids programmes, not since they cancelled I'm Sorry I've Got No Head, which was hilarious. There are still moments of genius: Horrible Histories told the life story of Charles Dickens in a spot on parody of the songs of The Smiths. But there's nothing like Thunderbirds or Catweazle or (my sister's favourite) The Adventures of Black Beauty (featuring one of my favourites, Stacy Dorning!).

Stacy Dorning in Adventures of Black Beauty and an episode of Space: 1999

I cut back from the quay—remember? I was out walking—past the chip shop where we sometimes pick up fish 'n' chips, but which made the papers this week as the scene of a most violent crime. We were alone in the shop with the guy involved only a week earlier... but I guess that was the problem—we were alone. Business was not thriving.

The biggest frustration is that we have another chip shop here in town but it's just a little too far to walk back from and still have piping hot food. You need to eat it on the hoof and that's fine if you just want chips... but try eating fish with your fingers. Or even with one of those horrible little wooden forks. It's not on.

This column is turning into a right old ramble. To get back to something approaching business, I'm currently waiting on the OK from the copyright holder regards Arena and I'm starting to explore ideas for other books. I've had a few suggestions and I think some of them will make excellent collections.

My problem is getting hold of the comics themselves. Not always easy without spending a lot of money. So to start with, I may be limited to areas where I already have comics. But if there's anyone out there with a scanner and good runs of old DC Thomson comics from the sixties and seventies, let me know. Fifties, too, if you have them.

Random scans this week are a trio of children's stories that fit into the dystopian theme that I've been looking at on occasions over the past few weeks. The Hunger Games was incredibly popular and it has spawned a hugely successful movie series. Of course, success breeds more of the same, and we've recently had Divergence, based on the novel by Veronica Roth and, arriving in cinemas shortly, The Maze Runner from the novel by James Dashner.

Upcoming... well, it'll be patchy again because we're out for the next couple of evenings; also, I need to set up the payment system so that people can start ordering copies of the new book. It's all fiddly stuff that takes time. But I'll squeeze whatever I can into the weekend.

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