Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Preston North End - The Rise of the Invincibles

Steve Winders reviews a new graphic history by Michael Barrett and David Sque, charting the rise of Preston North End and the early years of soccer in England.

Running to over 130 colour pages, The Rise of the Invincibles chronicles the birth and development of Preston North End from a park cricket team into the most successful professional football club in Britain in the early years of the Football League. In telling this remarkable story Michael Barrett also explores the historical background to events at the club, covering the creation of Rugby and Soccer codes and the birth of the Football Association and the F.A. Cup. He examines significant events that impacted on Preston, such as growth of the Cotton Industry and the hardship brought by the American Civil War. The book is extremely well researched and greatly enhanced by former Roy of the Rovers’ artist David Sque’s illustrations which bring the story to life.  

Several clubs have been the subjects of comic strip histories, but unlike Preston, all the others are leading lights of the Premiership today, which is understandable as they have a larger potential readership. Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have all been featured in albums by Bob Bond, who is ironically a Preston supporter himself!  However these albums have endeavoured to tell the whole story of their clubs up to the present day. This album is different in that its focus is a highly detailed account of the early years. Bob Bond’s accounts are always told with great humour and while the Invincibles’ story is perhaps a more serious subject, it is nevertheless full of amusing vignettes and is both entertaining and informative.

Michael Barrett has used primary sources as well as the surprisingly large number of books about the club to fill in many fine details. For example, before the 1888 F.A. Cup Final, the players spent the morning watching the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race and consequently took to the pitch freezing cold in the afternoon. He also records that Fred Dewhurst, the team’s captain and an amateur was a teacher at the town’s Catholic College, although he does not mention that he took the F.A. Cup into school to show the boys after Preston won it in 1889.

Given the historical significance of the story for the development of professional football and the great detail that Michael Barrett includes in his account, this book should be of interest to football supporters well beyond the boundaries of Preston. The club initially suffered greatly for its ultimately successful attempts to develop professional football, being disqualified from the F.A. Cup in 1884 and 1886 and not even bothering to enter in 1885. They became missionaries for the proper legalisation of the professional game and were finally instrumental in persuading the F.A. to accept professionalism and prevent the false amateurism which would afflict several other sports for many years. The book explores the battle between the disciples of amateurism and the professionals and the birth of the Football League.  

The Rise of the Invincibles is soft backed and retails at £19.99, which, given the number of full colour pages and the overall quality of the book, is good value. It is available from Invincible Books and Amazon.

Paul Temple and the Khanwada Conspiracy part 9

I managed to repeat an episode when I was uploading the Paul Temple series. Apologies... the next episode will appear as normal tomorrow, but I'm leaving this here to explain why the episode number jumps from 8 to 10.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Comic Cuts - 23 December 2016

OK... just to explain the picture. Last week I mentioned that there had been a break-in around the corner from us and that any coverage in the papers quoted people saying that this was unexpected as Wivenhoe is such a quiet place. I then went on to mention a recent drug-related stabbing, a violent attack and that some ducks had gone missing.

And I was asked about the latter by someone thinking it was a reference to Doctor Who. Sorry, Bill, I'm not that smart! It really happened. Two ducks have genuinely gone missing.

Most people are compiling their best of the year lists, but I've seen so few films this year that it would be pointless: I have just seen Rogue One, which was brilliant, but there are loads of films that I'm happy to wait to see on DVD so I can watch them in the comfort of my own home as many times as I like for the same price as (and sometimes cheaper than) a trip to the cinema.

That said, I do watch a lot of TV and I'm reasonably up-to-date on a lot of shows. So the Guardian Top 50 made interesting reading. There are a couple of shows in there that I ought to catch up on. Happy Valley, for instance, and The Night Of, which I almost bought last week on DVD (I persuaded myself not to as I still have loads of stuff to watch).

Anyway, I can't fault Planet Earth II as being the best TV of the year. It was truly astonishing and Mel and I still mention the iguana being chased by snakes – it has become a bit of a meme around the house, as has the phrase, "kicked right in the lioness", thanks to seeing a giraffe seeing off at attack. We haven't watched too many documentaries due to the sheer amount of other TV that we want to watch. I guess Who Do You Think You Are? is our only regular factual programme. The Danny Dyer episode was hilarious and we still have Ian McKellan and Greg Davies to look forward to.

I did see the film documentary For the Love of Spock, which I can recommend. It's a biography of Leonard Nimoy filmed by his son. Perhaps the only fault is that it would have been nice to explore a little further into the periods when Nimoy himself fell out of love with Spock. But overall it was a moving tribute which didn't try to cover over the difficult relationship Adam Nimoy had with his father.

Of the comedies, I loved Fleabag (Mel didn't), I though Flowers was weird but OK – but we definitely don't need a second series (which, apparently, they are doing). I haven't seen quite a few on the list: Veep (which I want to see), People Just Do Nothing, Camping... we did see the BBC's sitcom season and thought most were good; glad especially to see that Motherland is getting a series, not so sure about the Johnny Vegas one, which is also going to series. Thought the remakes of missing episodes worked very well, and I'd love to see more. Some good news on that front: the radio series of Missing Hancocks is returning next year and will include four episodes from the second season of radio shows during which Tony Hancock really did go missing (he fled to Rome). Harry Secombe was drafted in and Hancock only returned with the fourth episode. These will now be recreated with Secombe's son, Andrew, standing in for his late father.

One show that didn't make the Guardian list was Catastrophe, which was just as good in its second season as in its first, and, from across the pond, John Oliver's This Week Tonight and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, both cuttings from The Daily Show that have flowered beautifully. Trevor Noah has been a pretty good host for The Daily Show, although I still prefer John Oliver's take-downs of American politics. (And despite the excellent job the rotating cast of replacements is doing, I still miss him on The Bugle.) A British attempt at a political show, Matt Forde Unspun was a valiant attempt at doing a similar show on Dave and I hope they'll give it another spin.

Of the thrillers that rolled out in 2016, I have to say that Line of Duty probably had me on the edge of my seat the longest. The Missing was also incredibly good. I've missed a few of those listed by The Guardian, including the The People vs. OJ Simpson, which was apparently brilliant, and we've still ti watch most of Black Mirror, although the first couple of episodes have been up to the very high standard of earlier shows.

One that I saw that nobody else seems to have seen is Hap and Leonard, based on the novels by Joe R. Lansdale. The 6-part show was based on the novel Savage Season and it caught the tone of the book beautifully: violent and funny and with two central performances by Michael Kenneth Williams and James Purefoy that capture perfectly the relationship between the titular characters. The good news is that they're making a second series, based on Mucho Mojo.

There has been some brilliant SF/weird/fantasy in 2016. The series that everyone was talking about was Stranger Things (Stephen King meets Steven Spielberg, to a John Carpenter soundtrack), which became a huge hit for Netflix. The streaming company also produced a bunch of other shows that I'd recommend: Luke Cage was brilliant and I'm really looking forward to Iron Fist (due out in March), I'm looking forward to watching The OA, which could be the next Stranger Things, the Christmas special of Sense8 and the animated Trollhunters over Christmas.

Other latecomers that I have yet to watch include The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America, via Netflix), Incorporated (Syfy) and Timeless (NBC), but I did manage to catch Mars, which was a mixture of fact and fiction produced by the National Geographic channel. It followed an attempt to put mankind on Mars in 2033 and the struggles the crew – and subsequent arrivals over the next few years – faced to build a sustainable base of operations. The show included flashbacks to present-day interviews with scientists and others (including Andy Weir, author of The Martian) discussing the science behind any such attempt. It worked, and I was gripped.

One of the best new shows of the year was Preacher, based on the Garth Ennis and (sadly missed) Steve Dillon comic. The show got the tone of the comic just right, in a way that the John Constantine TV series from 2014 didn't. Preacher shows you what Constantine should have been. Thankfully I'm not the only one who thinks it's great and there should be another season next year.

Ditto Westworld, which both Mel and I thought was excellent, although we won't see the sequel until 2018.

The best of the foreign thrillers we saw this year was Trapped, set in Iceland, with a terrific performance from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who turned up later in the year in The Missing. Deutschland 83 was a critical hit and had plenty of thrills, especially as it reached a potentially nuclear climax (for those who didn't see it, a spy steals war plans from Americans based in West Germany and a war games exercise is mistaken for the real thing and could potentially lead to a pre-emptive strike by East Germany against the West). Apparently there are plans for further stories set in 1986 (to air in 2018) and 1989.

The Australian series The Code had an excellent second series... no news of a third series yet, but fingers crossed.

As writing the above has taken so long I haven't had a chance to sort out any cover scans. I do have one, which is a wonderful story by Raymond Briggs about the lives of his parents. It has been adapted as an animated movie and it will be broadcast by the BBC at 7.30pm on Wednesday the 28th of December.

I was a bit surprised when my Mum told me that she had heard an interview with Roger Mainwood, the director, in which Wivenhoe was mentioned. Turns out he lives just up the road... I've probably bumped into him in the Co-Op!

I've got to get some sleep! My advice for the new year is not to start writing a 1400-word blog post at 10.30pm.

There's just enough time for me to say I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope you have a brilliant time. The Paul Temple strip will keep running until the new year. I like to think of Bear Alley as a quiet corner of the internet that you'll be able to visit for a bit of peace, quiet and adventure over the busy Christmas and New Year period.

Paul Temple and the Khanwada Conspiracy part 5

(* © Evening News)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Paul Temple and the Khanwada Conspiracy part 3

(* © Evening News)

Rebellion releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases 21 December 2016.

Judge Dredd Megazine #379
Judge Dredd: Psicho by Peter Milligan (w) Jake Lynch (a) Tiernen Trevallion (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Blunt by TC Eglington (w) Boo Cook (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Angelic: Home is The Hunter by Gordon Rennie (w) Lee Carter (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Anderson: Judgement Call by Alec Worley (w) Paul Davidson (a) Len O'Grady (c) Ellie De Ville (l)
Features: Thrill-power Overload, Four Colour Classics: Action, New Comics: Hook Jaw
Bagged reprint: Sinister Dexter - Life Is An Open Casket

Saturday, December 17, 2016

William Gibson Cover Gallery

Neuromancer (New York, Ace Books, 1984)
Grafton 0586-06645-4, 1986, 317pp.
HarperCollins 0486-06645-4, 1993, 317pp.
Voyager 0006-48041-1, 1995, 320pp.
Voyager 0007-11958-5, 2001, 317pp.

Burning Chrome (New York, Arbor House, 1986)
Grafton 0586-07461-9, 1988, 220pp.
Voyager 0006-48043-8, 1995, 220pp.
Voyager 0586-07461-9, 224pp.

Count Zero (London, Victor Gollancz, 1986)
Grafton 0586-07121-0, 1987, 335pp.
Voyager 0006-48042-X, 1995, 335pp, £5.99. Cover by Gary Marsh

Mona Lisa Overdrive (London, Victor Gollancz, 1988)
Grafton 0586-20747-3, 1989, 316pp.
Voyager 0006-48044-6, 1995.
Voyager 0586-20747-3, 2000, 320pp.
Gollancz 978-1473-21742-3, 2016, 314pp, £8.99. Cover by Daniel Brown

The Difference Engine, with Bruce Sterling (London, Victor Gollancz, 1990)
VGSF 0575-05073-X, 1991, 256pp.
Vista 0575-60029-2, 1996, 383pp.
Gollancz (SF Masterworks) 978-0575-09940-1, 2011, 383pp.
---- [2nd imp.] n.d., 383pp, £7.99. Cover based on an image by Christopher Gibbs/Arena

Virtual Light (New York, Bantam Spectra, 1993)
Penguin 0140-15772-7, 1994, 295pp, £5.99. Cover photo
---- [9th imp.] n.d., £6.99.

Idoru (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996)
Penguin 978-00140-24107-5, 1997, 292pp, £6.99. Cover by Gary Marsh

All Tomorrow's Parties (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1999)
Penguin 0140-26613-5, 2000, 277pp, £6.99. Cover photo by Martine Mouchy/Stone
Penguin 978-0241-95351-8, 2011, 277pp.

Pattern Recognition (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2003)
Penguin 0140-26614-3, 2004, 356pp.
Penguin 978-0241-95353-2, 2011, 356pp.

Spook Country (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007)
Penguin 978-0141-01671-9, 2008, 369pp, £7.99. Cover photo by Steve Harries
Penguin 978-0241-95354-9, 2011.

Zero History (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2010)
Penguin 978-0670-91955-0, 2011, 404pp.

The Peripheral (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2014)
Penguin 978-0241-96100-1, 2015, 484pp, £8.99. Cover design by gray318

Agency (2020)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Comic Cuts - 16 December 2016

On Monday, I started work on the next issue of Hotel Business, and have spent the remainder of the week keeping a lid on e-mail related to the title. Normally I would have started with a couple of hundred outstanding messages, but I've been keeping an eye on things and the number never went over 105 and dropped over the next couple of days to 64 then 34.

I seem to sped most of my day reading press releases. It's very different to my days on Comic World. Putting aside the idea that it was so long ago we didn't have e-mail (!), on Comic World I was able to build up a small team of reliable writers, whose names you would see in issue after issue. The unreliable ones were quickly dropped. It's the system I prefer and the one I used on all other magazines I've been involved with... until now.

As there's no budget, we rely on agencies for written material and instead of five or six articles of between 1,600 and 3,200 words by five or six authors, I'm dealing with 50 or 60 150-300 word pieces by 50 or 60 agencies. As themes change in each issue, and agency staff changes almost as quickly, I'm rarely dealing with the same people from one issue to the next. Building a relationship is impossible and every newcomer seems to have their own way of getting things wrong. Actually that's a bit of an exaggeration because they all make one mistake in common: I always ask for high res. pictures to use as illustrations, and they're either missing or what they've sent is way too small. We're a glossy broadsheet paper: your Google mail profile picture is waaaaay too small... and, no, we can't just "grab something off the website" because even if you don't mind illustrating your bylined article with shitty product shots, I do mind having them in a paper that has my name on it as editor.

(But you don't say that, of course. You try to explain the meaning of "pixel resolution" and "dots per inch" and why something that looks good on an HD TV – which is essentially what your computer screen is – won't look so good when it's blown up to four or five times the original size and printed on paper.)

Wednesday was interrupted by the arrival of a police officer who was going door-to-door asking about a shooting incident in nearby Stanley Road. I'd walked past a police van and noticed the crime-scene tape that had been used to close down the road. Apparently, police had responded to a neighbour's call that a house was being broken into. When they arrived a few minutes later, the would-be thief fired a gun at them and escaped while they were calling for back-up. This occurred at around 9.30pm on Tuesday night.

Police began searching Stanley Road and surrounding roads, including ours, which Stanley Road branches off and runs parallel to. A near neighbour's house on the opposite side of the road backs onto the property that was broken into, yet we knew nothing about it... although any other Tuesday, Mel would have been caught right in the middle of it. Visiting friends, she's usually not back until gone ten in the evening. However, this Tuesday, she was back at nine because our friend's daughter wanted to borrow something for a cookery project; so our friend, who had driven Mel back, left with her daughter around half-an-hour before the break-in and gun-shot. A later report identified the weapon as a gas-powered BB gun that was taken from the burgled house.

As you'd expect, most of the stories about the incident quote people talking about how quiet the town is, although we've had a drug-related stabbing and the guy who ran the local fish & chip shop is now serving time for almost dismembering his landlord. And some ducks have gone missing recently. This place is a hot-bed of crime!

I was saddened to hear that Patricia Robins had died. Better known as Claire Lorrimer, she was a very prolific author, although she did not write 160 novels as was claimed by the Daily Mail. I think the claim stems from a Press Association obituary which mistook Patricia's output for that of her mum, Denise Robins. An online biography reads: "Born Patricia Robins, 1st Feb 1921, she was the second of three daughters of Denise Robins, the bestselling novelist also known as ‘the Queen of Romance’, author of 160 novels." Daughter Patricia was said to have just completed her 80th novel. Still a lot, but only half the output of her mother.

Patricia once commented on a piece I'd written here on Bear Alley! Back in 2007 I wrote a column about her grandmother, Kathleen Groom, who wrote under a variety of names. Patricia commented via one of her nieces.

On the same day we learned that E. R. Braithwaite, author of To Sir With Love died, aged 104. Patricia was 95, so it gives us all hope: some writers live to a ripe old age and don't just wither away over their keyboards. Patricia was still actively writing, having continued to write following a fall which hospitalised her earlier this year. Her first book was written when she was 12, which means her writing career lasted 83 years!

In honour of Patricia and E. R. Braithwaite, here are a few random scans.

Starting on Monday we have a new Paul Temple comic strip beginning, which I'll be running through Christmas and into the new year. Think of it as my present to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Commando issues 4975 - 4978

Commando issues on sale 15th December 2016.

Commando – 4975 – Flying Blind
Sergeant Owain Howell was too headstrong for the R.A.F. Charged with insubordination, he found himself consigned to the ground crew, servicing the planes he had once hoped to fly. Travelling with his crew to Africa, he was shot down and stranded in Italy.
    Squadron leader Leonard Brinkley, on the other hand, was a cool and experienced pilot. However, after a raid went disastrously wrong, Leonard found himself a Prisoner of War; unable to see, and unable to escape.
    Together, they embarked on an audacious plan to rescue their teammates and return to Britain. But escaping the enemy is no mean feat when you’re… Flying Blind.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Morhain
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando – 4976 – The Stolen Lanc
Tom Cornish flew Spitfires and had lightning reactions to match. His brother, Mike, flew a Lancaster bomber, and was safe and steady as a rock.
    Too bad that Tom had a nasty habit of referring to “flying tramcars” and lumbering Lancs”, or saying fighter pilots needed twice the skill and courage of bomber crews. To him bombing was about as risky as delivering milk.
    Mike was so made that he invited Tom aboard the Lanc for one of those “milk runs”.

The introduction of the Lancaster bomber in World War Two would change the face of air warfare, bringing with it enduring competition between bomber crews and fighter pilots. Such attitudes are brilliantly explored in David Boutland’s epic tale of sibling rivalry, as he perfectly captures the frustration of fighting for recognition.
    The story of Mike and Tom Cornish is brought to life by Domingo’s striking artwork, not only capturing the fast-paced action, but establishing a fraught relationship between the brothers with subtle looks and body language. Framed by Ken Barr’s stunning cover art, The Stolen Lanc recognises the importance of the Lancaster bomber crew and the incredible risks they took on each of their missions.—The Commando Team

Story: David Boutland
Art: Domingo
Cover: Ken Barr
The Stolen Lanc, originally Commando No 271 (July 1967), reissued as No 951 (July 1975).

Commando - 4977 – Strange Encounter
Cadogan Strange thought he’d heard the last of the arrogant Major von Hunsdorff after Russian troops had thwarted the Major’s attempt to flee across the Pamirs to the Turkish Front. But a Prisoner of War camp could not hold Hunsdorff for long, and his escape brought these two foes face to face once again.
    Desperate to use Afghanistan’s forces against the British, Hunsdorff defies orders from Berlin and leads his men towards Heart in an effort to seize power. With a score to settle and peace to maintain, it is up to respected veteran Cadogan Strange and his newfound ally, Lieutenant Frank Gibson, to stop the rogue German troops from reaching their target – before it’s too late!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Morahin & Rezzonico
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando - 4978 – The Cairo Secret
A vast city, teeming with millions of people of all nationalities. Here in Cairo were spies, informers, saboteurs, as well as crooks, thieves, and assassins. Here many a dangerous plot was hatched, here much money could be made, and quickly. Here too, sudden death lay waiting…

When reluctant soldiers Len Potter and Tim Bates deserted the army to seek their fortune in Cairo, they could never have guessed that they would become central figures in sparking an uprising against the British. The Cairo Secret is a classic tale of twists and treachery, tapping into the revolutionary tensions in Egypt during the Second World War, and proving there was action – and danger – to be found far from the front lines.
    Lomas’ cast of unpredictable characters teamed with Gordon C. Livingstone’s wonderful art creates an undercover story which throws us straight into the action, refusing to slow down until the very end.—The Commando Team

Story: Lomas
Art: Gordon C. Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
The Cairo Secret, originally Commando No 1130 (May 1977), reissued as No 2460 (April 1991)


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