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Friday, March 15, 2019

Comic Cuts - 15 March 2019

The problem with having a full-time job – which is what I have at the moment, even if it's only temporary – is that I keep looking enviously at other projects and wishing I could work on them. There's the Valiant index, for instance, or the fifth volume of Forgotten Authors, or a return to the Caught in the Act project, a top-to-toe revision of The Mushroom Jungle, or the book on pirate comics publishers.

I dip my toe into these occasionally as new information presents itself, but I've not had a chance to knuckle down and do any substantial work on anything outside of my current employment since November. The only break I've had (ignoring Christmas and New Year as that was family time, not extracurricular work time) was three days off to prep, film and recover from the Iron Mask segment that will appear on The One Show. The production company asked for an additional image on Wednesday, and say its currently being edited.

Thanks to the arrival of a book I've been looking out for on Saturday, I've finally picked a project that I'll see through to publication. It won't be of the greatest interest to most of you, but it will hopefully please a few.

I'm planning to reprint some of Gwyn Evans' novels. Back in 2004, I wrote an essay about Evans and his writing career. He was primarily a writer of crime fiction, especially Sexton Blake thrillers. But his life outside his writing, as a Bohemian alcoholic, I found just as fascinating.

I expanded the essay into a book called Gwyn Evans: The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet in 2012, which I didn't expect to sell more than a few dozen copies... and it didn't upset those expectations. Part of the reason Evans is now forgotten is that none of his work is in print. His delightful Christmas adventures of Sexton Blake were reprinted by Howard Baker in 1974, and still turns up second hand online, but you have to know about it and look for it. After forty-five years you're unlikely to just stumble upon it.

So when I was writing the book I thought it would be an idea to get a couple of novels back into print. After all, they're out of copyright so I could do it relatively cheaply. I put together the texts of a couple of books, but then allowed myself to be distracted by a couple of other projects, negotiating the rights to reprint the four Sexton Blake Annuals (all of which included Evans' stories) and writing the Lion King of  Picture Story Papers book.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I'm working on the text for the second novel and, at some point, I'll reprint the first two Bill Kellaway novels, Hercules, Esq. and The Homicide Club, two classics written in Evans' boozy days in the late 1920s, but inventive, funny, and filled with likable, eccentric characters. If I can keep up the momentum, I'll also be reprinting Satan, Ltd. and The Return of "Hercules, Esq." as it would be nice to have all four books available. And maybe more, should there be a demand.

Because Mel was at a convention over the weekend, I spent a big chunk of Saturday trying to restore the cover of Satan, Ltd.. Some of you may remember from last week's column the rather battered and scarred cover... well, you can now compare it to the restored cover at the top of this week's column. I think it looks pretty good.

I watched the first season of the science fiction thriller Counterpart last November and thought it superb. The premise of the show is that in 1987, a group of scientists discover that a parallel Earth exists and there is a corridor that connects the two realities. There is an episode in season 2 that shows this event, so I won't go too deeply into it; what I can say is that two counterparts begin experimenting to create small differences between the two worlds.

A flu epidemic in the early 1990s wipes out half a billion in the Prime reality and some in the Prime Office of Interchange (OI) set up an programme called Indigo, taking children and training them to take over the lives of their counterparts in the Alpha reality, with a plan to have these sleeper agents avenge what Indigo believe was a deliberate attack.

The second season opened at a point where the crossing point has been closed following an attack on Alpha OI where infiltrators gun down nearly a dozen staff. As the season unfolds, Howard Silk (Prime, who has swapped places with his Alpha counterpart), his (Alpha) wife, and members of the Alpha OI try to track down the Prime terrorists and a Prime agent known as Shadow – actually the wife of Alpha OI's Director of Strategy, Peter Quayle.

Meanwhile, Howard Silk Alpha is arrested while helping his (Prime) wife, and sent to a facility known as Echo where he meets a scientist named Yanek, a prisoner but actively interrogating those around him, including Prime's Peter Quayle.

Last time I praised the incredible central performance of J. K. Simmons as Howard Silk; he's still brilliant, but over season two the two very different characters from season one seem to be merging and growing more alike. Instead, the character of contrast who joined Howard  front and centre for this second season, is Olivia Williams as his wife / ex-wife, who was in a coma (Alpha) for season one but turns out to have a key role in the hunt for Indigo. Also, Harry Lloyd deserves a mention for his range as Peter Quayle, from slick, smug Peter, confused and scared Peter, angry Peter, vulnerable Peter – and all this before we get to the twitchy madness of his counterpart.

All this talk of Alpha and Prime may make it sound confusing to watch, but it really isn't. I never felt lost in the plot despite its complexity nor confused between realities. Although it has a science fiction premise, it's shot like a spy drama and has the pace and depth of a Cold War thriller, teasing and building and revealing and building again towards the climax of the show.

The Starz channel where Counterpart originally aired ordered two seasons and have decided not to renew the show. Thankfully it ends very satisfactorily (you know how I hate a cliffhanger season  ending!) but adds a little coda that could be a devastating opening position for a third season, although that seems an unlikely proposition. I'm just glad the producers were given the right amount of space to tell the story they planned.

Our random scans this week are a few of the books that have been added to the teetering piles dotted around the house over the past few weeks.

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