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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Comic Scene #10 (January 2020)

The big news for Comic Scene is the introduction of a new comic supplement to its pages. Corker has be trailed for a few issues, so its arrival isn't unexpected. A 24-page all-ages comic is a nice idea, but will live or die on the strength of the strips.

Richard Bruton takes a cold, hard look at whether your comic shop is likely to survive based on a simple test. Bruton reveals some astonishing figures for the sale of graphic novels aimed at children and argues that these need to be available in your shop, or you're cutting off a huge revenue stream.

There follows 10 pages of Rok of the Reds, reprinting the opening episode of the John Wagner / Alan Grant aliens meet football comic drawn by Dan Cornwell. For an independent comic, albeit written by two of our best, it became a surprise hit and a sequel (Rok the God) has just started publication. If you've not seen it before, this is your chance to play catch-up.

There is an extract from Julia Round's new book about Misty and other girls' comics, Gothic For Girls (University Press of Mississippi, 2019), aimed at academics but, from this brief look, very accessible to the everyday reader who has an interest in the subject. The opening extract chiefly deals with "The Cult of the Cat" and I assume that somewhere in the book it will mention that "Homero" is a pen-name and not the artist's real name.

There follows 8 pages of Lady Flintlock (by Steve Tanner and Andy Summey), follow-up to the fine highwayman yarn from previous issues of Comic Scene, and 24 pages of Corker. The latter is made up of three strips: Gallant and Amos by Rob Barnes, about a medieval knight and his dragon; Slash Moron by Bambos Georgiou and the late Jim Hansen, originally published in the digital comic Aces Weekly; and Megatomic Battle Rabbit by Stu Perrins and Israel Huretas, about an alien member of the Intergalactic Clean-Up Corp. who crashlands on Earth. The one-page Whackoman  by Marc Jackson wraps up the comic.

This issue concludes two features started last time with parts two of Steve Ray's interview with Andy Diggle (covering Batman, his work for French publisher Delcourt and ComiXology, and why he likes to control a script) and Russ Sheath's interview with metal musicians Scott Ian and Kirk Hammett.

There follows 6 pages of The Adventures of Captain Cosmic by Andy W Clift, an old-fashioned superhero yarn that wouldn't have looked out of place alongside CC Beck's Captain Marvel. (A review reveals that the series develops in interesting ways over its three (to date) issues.)

Alex Thomas (I believe) overseas what is still one of the best review sections currently around and there's the now regular Euro Scene review section.

Barrie Tomlinson wraps up with a look back at the 65th anniversary of Tiger, talking about some of the famous names that appeared in the paper over the years.

If you're here for the articles, you might feel that too much of the new issue – about 5/8ths – is dedicated to comics. Personally, I enjoyed all of them. 

Print copies can be had in newsagents for £5.99 per issue. Details about subscriptions can be obtained from Get My Comics: £29.94 for 6 issues (save £6 plus free digital copy); £55.20 for 12 issues (save £16.68 plus free digital copy). Digital copies can be had for £2.99, on £30 for 12 issues (save £5.88‬).

For other options, and for international rates for the print edition, visit the website.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Comic Cuts - 15 November 2019

I had a very interesting day out on Wednesday visiting Rebellion over in Oxford. I was there to chat about doing some work and some interesting ideas were floated. Hopefully further discussion will nail down a few things over the coming weeks, so I'll have some actual news for this column rather than my usual ramblings.

More to come.

We went to see Mitch Benn on Sunday, which has become something of a bi-annual event. I can't recall the first time we saw him, but the first time I reviewed one of his gigs here on Bear Alley was back in 2007, and I don't think that was the first time. The shows have evolved over the years, from the days of Mitch Benn and the Distractions, through solo shows that were chiefly built around albums of random songs, to shows that have a definite theme, e.g. 2014's Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle, and this year's Ten Songs to Save the World.

Something always seems to happen. We were there for the gig where black balloons drifted down from the roof during the set – a Goth band had been playing the night before and a few helium-filled balloons had gathered in the roof, slowly leaking; we were there for "Fenton", the instant song created the night that the deer-chasing dog went viral (2013), and, arriving early, stood outside in the hammering rain of Storm Clodagh (2015). This year's gig went off like a charm in comparison, even tho' Mitch was running late and we, again, standing in the queue outside as he pulled up and yelled his apologies.

Most of Monday morning was dedicated to chasing up Talk Talk regarding our compensation for the mess they made of transferring us to fibre optic broadband last July (see columns passim). We were out of action for a month and, despite Talk Talk having signed up to an automatic compensation scheme which is laid out on their website, we still haven't been reimbursed for the bills paid, nor the inconvenience suffered. We had already agreed on a sum that covered the latter half of July way back in August, but this was an all-new eighty minute struggle to agree a sum for the two weeks of August which they, at first, refused to cover. I started reading out what was written on their own website and it proved to be a persuasive argument as they suddenly discovered that, yes, it did need to be covered, came up with an offer that I accepted, and they have subsequently confirmed the arrangement in writing.

In between, in my efforts to sort through a lifetime's worth of collecting, I've dragged out some old boxes that have been living under the stairs for a decade, so I'll be posting a few books I've picked up for reference over the years. Some are like new, so keep your eye on my Ebay sales. There are still some nice Biggles paperbacks that I'm selling cheap.

There are Pennyworth spoilers in the review below, so skip to the end if you hate that kind of thing.

I was one of those people who thought Pennyworth was squeezing a franchise too far. The Gotham spin-off nobody asked for and nobody would want.

How wrong I was. I take it all back.

Set in an alternative England, we meet Alfred Pennyworth, a former SAS soldier now working as a bouncer at a London night club. Alfred (Jack Bannon) has hopes of setting up his own private security firm with SAS pals Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) and of dating one of the dancers, Esme Winikus (Emma Corrin). He meets Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), a billionaire operative of the CIA, and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), an agent of the No Name League, both avowed enemies of The Raven Society. (That Thomas and Martha are the future parents of Bruce Wayne doesn't actually add anything to the show, and, in fact, hinders the "will they, won't they" of their relationship. They will. I rather wish we didn't know.)

The Raven Society is headed by Lord James Harwood (Jason Flemyng), who has his sights on taking over the country, deposing the government and, if necessary, replacing the Queen (Jessica Ellerby) with the "pretender" King, who was forced to leave the country when he married an American divorcee. The parallels to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson and their sympathies towards the Nazis, and with the rise of a Fascist political party similar to Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, are plain, but Pennyworth is not simply the 1930s pushed three decades forward. Indeed, things are very different in 1960s London – there are public executions (the last public hanging was in 1868, the last hanging in 1964), armed constables patrol the streets and Jack the Ripper became an East End kingpin whose influence now rests in the hands of John Ripper (Danny Webb).

The battle between The Ravens and the No Name League escalates until Alfred and Dave Boy are independently hired to kill the leaders of the two groups, in what turns into one of the goriest moments in the whole series. It's a bloody show, although thankfully it doesn't dwell too much on the gore bar that one incident.

At the same time the show doesn't pull its punches and is not for kids. Esme is killed in an early episode, driving Alfred's actions for some while in directions you would not expect of a heroic lead character. There are situations that force him to make hard choices between saving his family and saving the nation.

Jack Bannon, a TV regular (Ripper Street, The Loch, Endeavour, Medici, etc.) was clearly asked to put on a Michael Caine accent – more Get Carter than Italian Job – and once you settle in, having Michael Caine in Sixties London again is something to be happy about. The action is dark but there's a certain levity to it, often around the actions of evil Bet Sykes, played with extraordinary relish by Paloma Faith, and her sister Peggy (Polly Walker).

The cast is simply extraordinary, with Anna Chancellor and Sarah Alexander becoming leaders of the two warring factions, Simon Day as a pub landlord, Coronation Street's Ian Puleston-Davies as Alfred's dad, and Felicity Kendall as a jailed mystic.

Although this is an American production, the creator and chief writer, Bruno Heller, is English, as is producer and director Danny Cannon, so there's more than a hint of The Avengers about the show – who else would you accompany to a quiet English village only to find it full of killers if not Steed and Mrs Peel? – and it will be interesting to see where it heads in season two.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Commando 5279-5282

Brand new issues out today!

5279: A Boy Goes To War

In World War One “as many as 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army…” according to the BBC. This Commando is inspired by them as the hero, Tom Cowrie, illegally signs on to do his part. Spurred on by his brother’s heroic letters, Tom runs away from home only to find out that the war is nothing like his brother had described, and in the harsh reality of the trenches he was just a boy who went to war.

Story: Iain McLaughlin
Art: Manuel Benet
Cover: Manuel Benet


5280: The Savage Sky

A stunning aerial Ian Kennedy cover sits atop this classic Commando issue from 1973! With amazing artwork by Mira depicting the Commando staple tropes of a reluctant hero and a pilot attached to a bomber squadron when he’d rather be flying fighters. In this case, Pilot Officer Andy Seymour is booted off Hurricanes and onto a mammoth Boeing Fortress – but Seymour will soon learn the flying beasts are equally as dangerous in the sky!

Story: Staff
Art: Mira
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 772 (1973).


5281: On Your Bikes!

Ferg Handley tackles comedy in this World War One story. The Army Cyclist Corps wasn’t Lieutenant Arthur ‘Gormless’ Gormley’s first choice to join, but he was determined to do his bit — even if he did fall off his bike again and again. He had originally wanted to join the cavalry but that’s a different story!

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Morhain & Defeo
Cover: Ian Kennedy


5282: The Paras Are Here!

Phil Gascoine’s fiery cover for ‘The Paras Are Here!’ is very emblematic of McDevitt’s tumultuous plot within, which focuses on two sergeants before D-Day who lay the groundwork for the invasion. Sergeant Joe Cougan is already stressed, but when the young, clumsy PIAT gunner, Private Andy Bruce, is around Joe’s stress levels go through the roof! And it’s only made worse when his rival Sergeant Sam Gleeson, tells him to cut the kid a break!

Story: McDevitt
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Phil Gascoine
Originally Commando No. 2544 (1992).


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

This week's releases from Rebellion.

2000AD Prog 2157
Cover: Cliff Robinson/Dylan Teague (cols)

JUDGE DREDD: GUATEMALA by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
DEFOE: THE DIVISOR by Pat Mills (w) SK Moore (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
BRINK: HATE BOX by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
HOPE: UNDER FIRE by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
THE FALL OF DEADWORLD: DOOMED by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Operation Overlord by Michaël Le Galli, Bruno Falba (w) David Fabbri, Christian Dalla Vecchia (a)
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08734-3, 14 November 2019, 78pp, £19.99 / $24.99. Available via Amazon.

An international bestseller, this stunning graphic novel - translated from French for the first time - tells four extraordinary tales of heroism set during the World War II Normandy landings on D-Day, June 6th 1944. 6th June 1944 D-Day, the allies launch a great offensive in Normandy in order to definitively rid Europe of the Nazi terror. The strategic and human scale of the operation, led by General Eisenhower, is unrivalled. No less than 160,000 men will be parachuted and land on five beaches in the northern France. Thus begins Operation Overlord.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 34 by  John Wagner, Garth Ennis, Gordon Rennie, Robbie Morrison, Alan Grant (w) Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Cam Kennedy, Jock, Henry Flint, Colin MacNeil, Frazer Irving, Cliff Robinson (a)
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08691-9, 14 November 2019, 272pp, £19.99 / $24.99. Available via Amazon.

The latest incendiary volume of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files, collecting the adventures of the iconic British character, presented in chronological order, complete and uncut! Former foes with raw grudges pour out of the woodwork when a dimension jump gets hijacked; an assassin carries out executions under the direct orders of the Chief Judge! Featuring art by comics superstar Jock (The Batman Who Laughs)!

Roy of the Rovers: Transferred by Rob Williams & Lisa Henke
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08750-3, 14 November 2019, 112pp, £19.99. Available via Amazon.

ROY OF THE...TYNECASTER? Thanks to a mighty team effort, Melchester Rovers have reached the dizzy heights of League One. For Roy Race however, the final had a bittersweet taste to it both he and Paco Diaz have been transferred to Melchester Rover's bitter rivals, Premiership champions, Tynecaster.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sexton Blake

For nearly a century, Sexton Blake was the most written about character in British fiction. He starred in approximately four thousand stories by nearly two hundred authors. A cross between Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, he was a publishing phenomenon, read by young and old alike.

SEXTON BLAKE AND THE GREAT WAR
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08782-4, 16 April 2020, 430pp, £8.99
This collection is comprised of three stories from Union Jack magazine dating from World War 1 and the lead up to it:

THE CASE OF THE NAVAL MANOEUVRES by Norman Goddard (1908).
Sexton Blake catches the Kaiser spying on British naval manoeuvres, dangles from a Zeppelin, impersonates a German soldier, fights the Kaiser on top of a train, is thrown into the Thames by Anarchists, and forces the German Emperor into a confrontation with the British Prime Minister.

ON WAR SERVICE by Cecil Hayter (1916).
Sexton Blake ventures into occupied Holland to deliver a vital despatch to a secret agent, fights enemy spies, escapes from a burning house, is pursued by the German cavalry, disguises himself as a simple labourer, captures and impersonates enemy agents, faces a firing squad, and makes a daring escape through a secret tunnel.

PRIVATE TINKER — A.S.C. by William Murray Graydon (1915).
Tinker makes a mistake, joins up under an assumed name, is sent to the front line, evades enemy troops, and is blown up. Blake enters a battle zone and gets shot. Tinker flies a reconnaissance mission, crash-lands behind enemy lines, causes an enemy supply train to crash into a German troop carrier, liberates French prisoners, rescues a colonel, foils attempted sabotage, and is declared a hero.

SEXTON BLAKE VERSUS THE MASTER CROOKS
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08789-3, 25 June 2020, 430pp, £8.99
This second collection is comprised of three stories from Union Jack featuring characters from the first wave of master crooks.

THE CASE OF THE MAN IN MOTLEY by Anthony Skene (George N. Philips) (1919).
Sexton Blake literally crosses swords with the most stylish of his enemies; engages in a car chase; discovers a murdered clown; fights on the brink of an incinerator; and recovers a stolen diamond.

PRINCE PRETENCE by Lewis Jackson (Jack Lewis) (1921)
A labour leader is abducted and impersonated by Leon Kestrel; the French lottery is won; Sexton Blake's efforts are sabotaged and he is arrested; an imposter is exposed; a master crook is caught; a grotesque dwarf is visited; Tinker is kidnapped for ransom and threatened with being walled up in the Paris catacombs; Blake comes to the rescue; and the villains, though defeated, escape.

THE WONDER MAN'S CHALLENGE by Edwy Searles Brooks (1921)
Waldo the Wonder-Man robs a bank, climbs a sheer wall, walks a tightrope, steals a biplane and a necklace, and challenges Sexton Blake to catch him. Blake puts Pedro on the trail, spots a deception, and has a confrontation in a pub. Tinker picks a pocket. Waldo climbs up a chimney, swings onto a train, and flees defeated.

SEXTON BLAKE ALLIES
Rebellion ISBN 978-0781-08795-4, 6 August 2020, 280pp, £8.99.
Comprised of three more "Golden Age" stories from Union Jack, in which Sexton Blake discusses the various reporters, adventurers, Scotland Yard men and private detectives with whom he worked.

THE CASE OF THE SEVENTH KEY by W. W. Sayer (1925)
A pocket is picked, Blake is deceived, a murder is committed, the Orient Express is boarded, Secret Service agent Granit Grant enters the fray, crown jewels are at risk, Blake is poisoned and left tied up on a railway track, horses are commandeered, and a chase ends in Prague.

THE PROBLEM OF THE DOUBLE FOUR by Gwyn Evans (1927)
An assassination fails, precious emerald's are stolen, Derek "Splash" Page gets a lead, a revolution brews, the Double Four starts plotting, a female impersonator takes Tinker to a haunted house, Blake falls through a trap door, and a king crook is revealed to be a real king.

TREE OF EVIL by Rex Hardinge (1932)
Sir Richard Losely is taunted by a disembodied voice and succumbs to poison, Lobangu has a prophetic dream, Blake acquires an additional assistant, a native uprising occurs, hungry crocodiles are evaded, battle is engaged, and a malicious spirit is exposed.

SEXTON BLAKE ON THE HOME FRONT
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08802-0, 1 October 2020, 250pp, £8.99
The fourth thrilling collection of classic stories welcoming back the adventuring detective as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes and as daring as James Bond.
    This collection is comprised of two Sexton Blake Library stories from the 1940s, focusing on the Second World War and the changing nature of his investigations in its aftermath.

THE MAN FROM OCCUPIED FRANCE by Anthony Parsons (1941)
A woman is wrongly condemned as a spy, her fiancé takes desperate measures, Sexton Blake detects a frame up, a nest of espionage agents is routed, a mission to occupied France is undertaken, Nazis are evaded, a dying man gives up his secrets, and a spymaster is exposed.

THE HOUSE ON THE HILL by John Drummond (John Newton Chance) (1945)
An unwelcome marriage proposal is made, a man doesn't know whether he's committed a murder, a mysterious house gives up its secrets, suspects are gathered and a theory expounded, Tinker is bound to an infernal mechanism, and shots are fired.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

DC Thomson releases

Fans of Starblazer have spent years asking for reprints of the classic pocket library title that ran between 1979 and 1991. Well, DC Thomson have now released a pair of titles as part of their new range of reprints that has so far included two volumes of Ramsey's Raiders from the pages of Commando. Unlike the Ramsey's volumes, these are not newly coloured, but reprinted in the original black & white.

Here are the details of those two recent releases... and if anyone cares to review them, I'll be happy to publish here on Bear Alley.

Ramsey's Raiders Volume Two
D. C. Thomson Media ISBN ???, 2019, 136pp, £14.99.
Commando presents Ramsey’s Raider’s Graphic Novel – Volume 2 and the return of the Special Raiding Force!
     The ragtag crew of mavericks commanded by the intrepid Captain Jimmy Ramsey are back again in full graphic novel format, its original black-and-white interior artwork reborn with dazzling colour! Plus, the Volume features the first of Ramsey’s Raiders stories by the alternative interior artist, Mike White.
     Published since 1961 by DC Thomson Media, Commando is Britain’s longest running war comic. The graphic novel brings together the third and fourth Raiders issues: #3869 ‘Ramsey’s Island Raiders’ and #3874 ‘The Raider’s Revenge’ reprinted with eruptions of colour by colourist, Scott Dunbar, and lettering by Grant Wood!
     The 136-page collection also includes biographies about the Ramsey’s co-creator and writer, Ferg Handley, interior artists; Mike White and Keith Page, and cover artist Ian Kennedy alongside Kennedy’s original covers.

Starblazer Volume One
D. C. Thomson Media ISBN 978-184535799-3, 2019, 132pp, £12.99.
Originally published between 1979 and 1991 by DC Thomson, Starblazer was the pocket-sized, Science Fiction comic, presenting action and adventure stories set throughout space and time, overflowing with alien alliances, wonderful worlds and tantalising technology. This graphic novel presents issues #45 ‘Operation Overkill’ from 1981 and #71 ‘Jaws of Death’ from 1982, refreshing and rescaling the artwork to full graphic-novel size, whilst retaining the charm of their original black and white format.
     ‘Operation Overkill’ provides a glimpse into some of British comic legend Grant Morrison’s earliest work, where Argentinian illustrator Enrique Alcatena’s artwork brings such imaginations to life in exquisite detail. Likewise, ‘Jaws of Death’ by D Broadbent showcases Mick McMahon’s instantly recognisable, clean and confident draughtsmanship. Together, they present some of the best of British Science Fiction in a highly-collectible and well considered format, appealing to a contemporary audience as well as fans of the original pocket-size publication.
     Supplemented by the original, full-colour cover art by Keith Robson for both issues, a fresh new wraparound cover by Neil Roberts brings these classic stories into a contemporary, yet familiar field.
     Bonus content comes in the form of a brief history of the well-loved cult comic with an Ian Kennedy Easter Egg in the mix, an exclusive interview with artist Neil Roberts, and insights from a conversation with Grant Morrison by Professor Christopher Murray. A must-have for Science Fiction and British comic fans alike.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Comic Cuts - 8 November 2019

David Roach, John Freeman, Jenni Scott and Julia Round talk comics
I don't get out to many conventions these days. If I had the money, I'd go to more, but for the past twenty or so years, I've saved whatever I could while I was working in order to write books that I want to write. I had a good few years in the nineties (editing and managing three magazines at one point, plus freelance work) which has financed quite a few years of not earning much. The noughties have been feast or famine, stockpiling as much as I could during the good years to finance Bear Alley Books. It might not be everyone's idea of a career, but it has allowed me to write about comics and lost authors without having to worry about the size of the audience.

With the UK Comic Art Convention coming to a close in the late Nineties, there were no dedicated national comic conventions for some time. Then others began to pop up, until now there are at least a dozen conventions, some large (Lakes, Think Bubble, the MCM Comic Con) and many more local and smaller scale events. John Freeman's Down the Tubes lists dozens of conventions.

Hiding out in the wilds of north Essex, I do sometimes feel a bit isolated from  the hubbub of comics research happening at various universities around the country (Dundee, Manchester, Brighton, to name just three), but a lot of the research is turning up on the internet first through the Comics UK Forum, and then websites like Misty comic.co.uk and A Resource on Jinty. John Freeman's Down the Tubes has been running since 1999, Lew Stringer's Blimey was established in December 2006 and my own Bear Alley beat it into the world by a few months, my first post appearing on 15 August 2006.

That first post explained the origin of the name – Bear Alley – and that I had spent 25 years trying to reconstruct some of the records that had once been held there. Thirteen years and some 5,000 posts on, we are still making discoveries. I wrote a post about some I and others were involved in back in 2015 which makes the point about how frustrating it can be just missing an opportunity to talk to someone about their work, or the work of a family member. When researching Boy's World I missed talking to its first editor's brother by three weeks. But the research continues and recently a new name, previously unknown, came to light. Although nothing is yet known about girls' artist Don Walker, it may now be possible to credit some of his work, strips like 'Backstage Betty' and 'Chained to her Racket' in Judy, and dozens of other strips in Debbie, Mandy, and Bunty.

This was, in part, what we were talking about last Saturday (well, I was... whether that came across I don't know). Comics Jam was a small gathering of forty or so people who have for the most part been involved in writing about comics, whether from an academic point of view or an obsessively fannish one (guess where I fall on the scale), preserving their memory and preserving them physically.

The symposium was held at the Cartoon Museum in Wells Street (off Oxford Street), London, which I had never visited since it moved. It now has an excellent gallery space to display more material, and I was told that there are plans to expand the amount of comic strip art to bring it up to around 50% of the artwork on display

Steve Marchant, Fanny Lefevre and other staffers worked tirelessly to keep the small but friendly crowd fed and watered. Along with Peter Hansen, who had the thankless task of herding the participants into the correct cat boxes and getting them to London, this little team deserve everyone's thanks for making the day pass so smoothly. I believe Chris Murray, who also had his own small team from the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies (University of Dundee) that included Megan Sinclair, Zu Dominiak and Anya Morozova, was also part of the organizers who did all the heavy lifting along with the Comics Research Hub (University of the Arts, London) – if I've missed anyone, my apologies.

After an introduction from Steve Marchant and an astonishing video trip around Peter Hansen's collection, panel one was chaired by Phillip Vaughan, and included Julia Round, Chris Murray, Jenni Scott, John Freeman and David Roach. The format was far chattier than I had expected (who knew academics would ignore the strict timetable laid out which included time for questions at the end 😀) and soon drifted into areas that I'd hoped to cover myself in the second round-table.

Typically, I had overprepared and had written an opening statement, introductions, and questions for various panel members. I should have known that panels can turn into a free-for-all and the topics were so broad (The Story of British Comics, Celebrating and Preserving British Comics) that they would allow a lot of topic-drift and could go anywhere. I think this actually turned out to be a good thing, and after a brief attempt to get it off to a (slightly) structured start to get us going, I tried to keep up the momentum of the first panel with the second.

With both panels overrunning, the schedule tightened towards the end of  the afternoon as Phillip Vaughan spoke to Dave Gibbons, Julia Round quizzed Posy Simmons and Peter Hansen managed a question or three aimed at Jonathan Ross, who came to the conversation live from Belfast via Skype as he had had a last minute change of plans.

The good news: the panels were recorded by Alex Fitch for Resonance FM and will be available at some point through the Panel Borders podcast. There's also a chance that Phillip Vaughan recorded some material for the Comics Scene podcast... I'm guessing that the best place for any news in that direction will be the Facebook page.

I'll leave you with some photos taken at the event. Was anything achieved? I think so... the very act of opening a dialogue between people of the same mind is always a good first step. There are ideas and notions floating about that might become reality in the not-too-distant future. Discovering what exists is, again, a vital first step to making it available to a wider audience, whether it is what's in these old comics and storypapers that could be reprinted or what artwork has survived and how and where it can be displayed.

This is a topic we will come back to, I'm sure.

Peter Hansen and Chris Murray introduce the event
Guy Lawley signs the register...
Alex Fitch scratches his head...
David Roach on the phone, Richard Sheaf looks on...
Hannah Berry, Rob Power and Jenni Scott
Phillip Vaughan interviews Dave Gibbons
Julia Round interviews Posy Simmons
Jonathan Ross: Live from Belfast via Skype
.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

This week's 2000AD release from Rebellion.

2000AD Prog 2156
Cover: INJ Culbard

JUDGE DREDD: GUATEMALA by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
DEFOE: THE DIVISOR by Pat Mills (w) SK Moore (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
BRINK: HATE BOX by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
HOPE: UNDER FIRE by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
THE FALL OF DEADWORLD: DOOMED by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Ken Reid birthday promo

December 18th would have been Ken Reid's 100th birthday, and to celebrate this special occasion, Irmantas Povilaika is offering a Christmas gift to fans who have yet to purchase copies of his two-volume reprinting of Reid's Odhams comic strip, The Power Pack of Ken Reid, featuring such delights as Frankie Stein, Jasper the Grasper, Queen of the Seas, Dare-a-Day Davy and The Nervs.

Purchasers of volume one will receive a complete episode of Frankie Stein (printed in two halves) while purchasers of volume two will receive a complete episode of Dare-a-Day Davy (again, in two halves), the episode featuring Ken's self-portrait and a portrait of the strip's scriptwriter, Walter Thorburn.

Order both books and you will receive two bonus A4 prints of the portraits drawn by Reid, making a total of six free A4 prints.

You can order copies through Ebay or from the Kazoop online shop.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Comic Cuts - 1 November 2019

The last couple of weeks have been filling up with distractions. The house we rent has been undergoing a few checks—a full house inspection plus having an electrician over to fix a couple of broken lights; we had a gas inspection this week and have a full electrical inspection next week, which takes a day and a half, apparently, plus I have a dental appointment and went down to the doctors' surgery today to book myself in for an MOT later this month.

My last MOT was pretty good. I'm still overweight, which will come as no surprise to regular readers as I've discussed this before, but I have lost some weight since my last check-up. I did very well on the blood pressure test and I'm not anticipating any problems this time as I'm still getting out for my walks regularly. And my just-about-OK cholesterol test should see an improvement as I've cut down on margarine and I'm not eating quite as much processed meat. I'm even making my own burgers these days.

We shall find out in a few weeks. The good news is that, following advice from last time, there's a lot more fibre in my diet as I'm eating breakfast regularly and I'm getting a bit of extra exercise running down to the Post Office every day, including one day this week when I had to hump a huge box of magazines a quarter mile to get it picked up by Parcelforce, who wouldn't collect. 22 kilos it weighed and despite it being downhill all the way, my heart was hammering by the end of the journey. This is what happens when you sit in front of a computer all day.

I've spent a big chunk of the week putting together a stock piece for The Guardian, and as usual I've massively overwritten the first draft. There'll be lots of cutting today.

And I'm away up to London for the day tomorrow, but I'll tell you all about that next week.

(I'm a day late with the header pic., but Happy Halloween y'all!)

NCIS... it has been 17 years since the first season, so I think a spoiler warning isn't really necessary, but, just in case, be warned and hop to the end of the column if you hate that kind of thing.

There are only so many hours in the day and when NCIS started broadcasting on Channel 5 back in the 2000s, it was one of many US shows that I didn't have time for. Some I came to late: a friend asked me to video the early episodes of season three of 24 as she was out of the country, and I thought I'd watch an episode to see why she was so obsessed with it. One episode later and I was hooked... I managed to find the season one and season two DVDs not long after. C.S.I. was another one I got hooked on after friends began raving about it.

I found the first two seasons of NCIS in a charity shop for £1 each, so I thought I'd give it a try. I like American TV shows with complete-in-themselves episodes, as they're a nice length for watching at lunchtime (one of the advantages of working from home). And you don't want anything too heavy.

With NCIS you get what's called a cold open—a little introductory scene in which a body is found, or falls out of the sky, or, in one of the more intriguing cases, a woman gets a phone call from her supposedly dead husband. They're meant to pique your interest enough to get you through the opening credits without turning over. The show, which centres around the subsequent investigation leading to a reveal at the end, generally delivers on that initial promise.

The pilot episode involved the death of a special agent who was tasked with looking after the nuclear codes that accompany the President when he travels on Air Force One. The agent returns from a meal looking unsteady, then collapses in front of the President's security detail. The President in this case is George W. Bush, and the show cleverly splices real shots of Bush into some scenes.

The body is that of US Navy Commander Trapp, so the N.C.I.S. (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) arrive on the scene to investigate: gruff Special Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) leading the small team of smooth womanizer Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly supplying the banter, although in these days of #MeToo, "sex pest" might better describe him) and medical examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum), an old hand with a story for every situation.

They butt heads with the FBI and Secret Service, both of whom claim jurisdiction over the crime scene, but with the aid of Secret Service agent Caitlin "Kate" Todd (Sasha Alexander), they manage to lock the other agencies out of the plane and fly it back to Washington.

An autopsy shows no obvious signs of foul play, although it is still suspected and confirmed when  Marine Major Kerry, whom Trapp replaced at the last minute, also dies. Gibbs realises there will be an attempt on the President's life and... well, you can probably guess that he saves the day.

Kate is recruited to N.C.I.S. after being dropped from the Secret Service over her relationship with Major Kerry, and, back in Washington, we are introduced to Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), a fast-talking, super-intelligent Goth who provides whatever forensic or computer skills the storylines throw at her.

These are the five central characters for seasons one and two and for the most part they mesh well, with enough personality to make them more than ciphers. There are things yet to be discovered about the characters (I've only see the first season of the show, which is currently airing season 17!), so I've yet to discover, for instance, where grumpy Gibbs hides the charm he presumably has, as he has three ex-wives and someone who regularly picks him up at the end of episodes. And how is he going to get the boat he's building out of the basement?


Tony DiNozzo is something of a problem as his "banter" and office pranks tip into areas of chauvenism and misogyny. We shall have to see how he develops.

Indeed, in the case of NCIS as a whole, getting from crime scene to handcuffs on the crook(s) is a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to season two and (hopefully) finding some of the later seasons cheaply in charity shops.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Commando 5275-5278

Brand new issues of Commando — out today!

5275: A-Force

From the mind that brought you ‘Ramsey’s Raiders’ comes ‘A-Force’! A modern day Commando following the exploits of Jack Ramsey, Grandson of Captain Jimmy Ramsey of Ramsey’s Raiders fame. Given a crew of his own, operating behind enemy lines, fighting terrorists — can Jack live up to his grandfather’s reputation or will he be trapped living in his shadow?

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino


5276: Castle Sinister

It’s 1944, and the Odd Bod Squad are pushing into Germany with the rest of the Allied invasion.  Little do they know that some diabolical Germans have a last ditch plan to halt the invasion once and for all with something called the ‘Red Death Virus’. The virus is so deadly it could kill a person before they finished their final breath. And where were they developing this virus?  In Castle Sinister, of course!

Story: CG Walker
Art: CT Rigby
Cover: Penalva
Originally Commando No. 753 (1973).


5277: Commandos Vs Zombies

Commando goes Horror for Halloween! A routine raid on a heavy water plant in Norway goes horrifically awry for a team of Commandos when they come face to face with a horde of flesh-eating zombies! A Commando issue of firsts, the Halloween issue features the first Commando comic to push the limits of art and production with edge to edge art where the only bleeds come from the zombies!

Story: Georgia Standen Battle
Art: Vicente Alcazar
Cover: Ian Kennedy

5278: Death’s Head

A gang of ruthless SS Death’s Head soldiers led by a savage officer called Karl Schwarz are on the loose in Bavaria, hunting and killing whoever they please. On their trail is a Wehrmacht Oberleutnant named Werner Lang, whose life depends on him catching them! If he doesn’t he’ll be up in front of an American firing squad on the charge of murder.

Story: John Paterson
Art: Garijo
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 2914 (1995).

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases for 30 October 2019.

2000AD Prog 2155
Cover: Stewart Kenneth Moore
JUDGE DREDD: GUATEMALA by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
DEFOE: THE DIVISOR by Pat Mills (w) SK Moore (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
BRINK: HATE BOX by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
HOPE: UNDER FIRE by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
THE FALL OF DEADWORLD: DOOMED by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Comic Scene #9 (December 2019)

The latest Comic Scene has big news for the next issue, with the release of Corker!, an all-ages comic that will be appearing as a pull-out supplement. It, and other promo material dominate the first few pages where we would normally find the editor's chatty introduction and a list of contents. Expecting to find them a few pages on, it was a surprise to find myself in the middle of a 2000AD timeline celebrating 42 years of the comic.

What do you buy for a comic on its 42nd anniversary? The general consensus is 'real estate'. Well, it got you four pages in the latest issue of Comic Scene... that'll have to do.

Chris Hallam, timeline compiler, also has a feature on Halo Jones and a third on Watchmen.

Irmantas Povilaika concludes his 2-part look at Ken Reid's strips for Scorcher & Score, an article full of detail that makes me hope that its author is busy on his promised Ken Reid biography.

Steve J. Ray interviews Andy Diggle, which has some interesting insights into his career and work, including a period as Tharg the Mighty and as a writer on 2000AD, and then in the USA on such diverse titles as Swamp Thing, Action Comics, Batman Confidential and Daredevil. By coincidence, I recently read and enjoyed his Green Arrow origin series. We will have to wait to see what else he has to say, as this is part one of a two-parter.

The centrepiece of this issue is the Hidden Histories project, a National Lottery Heritage Fund project that has resulted in a booklet entitled Great War Dundee. The project, organised through the University of Dundee's Scottish Centre for Comic Studies, involved collecting stories of Dundonians and their experiences during the First World War.

As well as local events, the booklet—included as a pull-out section with his issue of Comic Scene—has a new story by Pat Mills about a Black Watch soldier returning to Dundee. It was pencilled by Gary Welsh and inked by Phillip Vaughan. Other stories in the booklet are 'The Women's Toon' by Erin Keepers & Hailey Austin, with art by Anna Morozova, and 'Casualties of War' written by Calum Laird with art by Elliot Balson. The cover is by Ian Kennedy.

Russ Sheath interview Scott Ian and Kirk Hammett of metal bands Anthrax and Metallica, both avid comics fans. This, too, ends in the dreaded "to be continued next issue". I championed longer articles in the magazine in its early days and it seems churlish to complain, but you would think that, with 80 pages to play with, not every article would need to be split.

The issue wraps up with the usual excellent reviews section, which covers primarily independent comics but now with a European reviews section that was added recently.

Print copies can be had in newsagents for £5.99 per issue. Details about subscriptions can be obtained from Get My Comics: £29.94 for 6 issues (save £6 plus free digital copy); £55.20 for 12 issues (save £16.68 plus free digital copy). Digital copies can be had for £2.99, on £30 for 12 issues (save £5.88‬).

For other options, and for international rates for the print edition, visit the website.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Neal Asher cover gallery

Novels

Mindgames: Fool's Mate (Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, Gordon McGregor, 1992)
X

The Parasite (Leicester, Leicestershire, Tanjen, 1996)
X

Gridlinked (London, Macmillan, 2001)
Pan
Tor 978-0330-51254-1, 2009, 521pp, £7.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan

The Skinner (London, Macmillan, 2002)
Tor 0330-48434-6, 2003, 582pp, £6.99. Cover by Steve Rawlings/Dabut Art

The Line of Polity (London, Macmillan, 2003)
Tor 0333-90365-X, 2003, 547pp, £10.99. Cover by Steve Rawlings/Debut Art
Tor 978-0330-51256-5, 2009, 662pp, £7.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan
---- [3rd imp.] n.d., £7.99.
---- [8th imp.] n.d., £9.99.

Cowl (London, Macmillan, 2004)
X

Brass Man (London, Macmillan, 2005)
X

Polity Agent (London, Tor, 2006)
X

Prador Moon (San Francisco, Night Shade Books, 2006)
Tor 978-0330-52846-7, 2011, 222pp, £9.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan
---- [5th imp.]

The Voyage of the Sable Keech (London, Tor, 2006)
Tor 978-0330-41160-8, 2006, 584pp, £7.99. Cover by Steve Rawlings

Hilldiggers (London, Tor, 2007)
Tor 978-0330-52847-4, 2011, 551pp, £7.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan

Line War (London, Tor, 2008)
Tor 978-0330-44154-4, 2009, 566pp, £7.99. Cover by Steve Rawlings

Shadow of the Scorpion (San Francisco, Night Shade Books, 2008)
X

Orbus (London, Tor, 2009)
Tor 978-0330-45760-6, 2010, 437pp, £7.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan

The Technician (London, Tor Macmillan, 2010)
Tor 978-0330-45762-0, 2011, 502pp, £7.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan

The Departure (London,Tor UK, 2011)
Tor 978-0330-45761-3, 2012, 497pp, £9.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan
---- [2nd imp.]; [3rd imp.] n.d. (2013?)

Zero Point (London, Tor UK, 2012)
X

Jupiter War (London, Tor UK, 2013)
Tor 978-033p[52453-7, 2014, 471pp, £8.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan

Dark Intelligence (London, Tor UK, 2015)
Pan Books 978-0330-52455-1, 2015, 470pp, £8.99. Cover by Jon Sullivan
---- [4th imp.]

War Factory (2016)
Pan Books 978-0330-52461-2, 2016, 543pp, £8.99. Cover by Larry Rostant

Infinity Engine (2017)
X

The Soldier (2018)
X

The Warship (2019)
X

Collections

The Engineer (Leicester, Leicestershire, Tanjen, 1999; expanded as The Engineer Reconditioned, Rockville, Maryland, Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 2006; abridged version of latter, Rockville, Maryland, Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 2008)
X

Mason's Rats (Preston, Lancashire, Kimota Publishing, 1999)
X

Runcible Tales: Tales of the far, far distant future (Chippenham, Wiltshire, Salisbury Editions, 1999)
X

Africa Zero (Helicong, Pennsylvania, Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 2001)
(no UK paperback; Cosmos edition shown)

The Gabble and other stories (London, Tor Macmillan, 2011)
X

Owning the Future: Short Stories (2018)
X