Sunday, 13 August 2017

SECTOR 13: FANZINE INTERVIEW PART 3



Welcome back to the final part of this interview with four of the creative minds behind the brand new 2000AD fanzine from Northern Ireland, Sector 13.  I posted a full write-up about this first (of hopefully many more to come) issue on Wednesday so go and catch up with the contents of this glossy greatness if you haven't already, then check out this three-part interview from the beginning where we've already discussed the initial creation of the comic and its main event, the Justice Perverted photo strip.

From left to right: Pit Crew Cosplayer (and cover star) Simon McKnight, Script Droid Andy Luke, Art Droid Jawine Westland, Editorial Droid Peter Duncan and Script Droid Laurence McKenna

If you want the full sensory experience to go with this interview I suggest you kick back with the smell of a freshly cooked calzone, the aroma of a freshly brewed coffee, the taste of a freshly pulled Guinness and the beat of some classic 80s music in the background.

PART THREE

Meeting every Wednesday to work on the comic's next edition, the team also gather on the last Friday of each month for a come-one-and-all pint or two and they couldn't be more enthusiastic that you join in.  So for this final part, as my asterisk button continues to take a beating we move on to the subject of the small press scene in Northern Ireland has a whole, the surprising lack of 2000AD groups across the UK and how, through those monthly meets, they're positioning Sector 13 in such a way that it's hopefully going to serve a bigger purpose than simply being a zarjaz comic.

Peter Duncan (Editorial Input): I don't know why, an awful lot of the people involved are of a certain age and we're an age that whenever 2000AD first started coming out Mega-City One looked a hell of a lot like Belfast.  It's in the editorial, it was a place where you had block wars over things that nobody understood.

Simon McKnight (Pit Crew Cosplayer): Police walking around in heavy armour, which was part of everyday life.

Peter: And in a way what we've learned, from what we appear to have learned is that there doesn't seem to be any 2000AD group like the Belfast one.  I wonder is that because there's something special about that relationship for people like Laurence.  I wasn't a huge 2000AD fan.  I read it now but I don't read it 'now', I'm reading it from about five years back because I'm doing a catch-up.  But there was something special for a lot of people.

Me: I was somewhat sheltered from the Troubles, living out of the city in a small town in the country by the sea.  But all of my friends in school who lived in the city all read 2000AD religiously, particularly loving Judge Dredd.

Andy Luke (Script Droid) goes to speak at this point but...

Laurence McKenna (Script Droid): Just while Andy goes to speak, his Sector 13 colleagues are standing to attention for El Presidente (everyone laughs).

Andy: At ease gentlemen.

Laurence: Thank you El Presidente.

Andy: I do declare that part of the success of the Sector 13 group, well, we had the Belfast Comics meets which had a much broader appeal but were more geared towards the indie stuff and didn't have the same level of alchemy among the people there.  Whereas the Sector 13 stuff is about 2000AD, the comic that survived.  It's sort of the one that's gathered in whole generations of British comics.  I think there's more than standard anthology in 2000AD, there's Eagle, there's Warlord, there's Victor, so it's a generational fusion.

Getting some use out of the sketch page

Laurence: The 2000AD group in Belfast on Facebook, as a monthly meeting group for everyone, whilst it is specifically 2000AD there's a massive acknowledgement that there are other people out there doing really, really good work and we genuinely want to support them and boost that as much as we can.  We need to boost any guy or any woman sitting down to write a story or attempting to draw a page, we need to support that.  It is a 2000AD-based group and that's great but groups like that need to be there.  It's great we coalesced a big group and it's done through 2000AD and I can't understand why London doesn't do that ten times over, why Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Leeds, f*****g Newcastle, Dublin, Cork, wherever else, why they don't, I don't know what it is with Belfast.  We're supposed to be the lazy, drunken irish f*****g d**kh**ds, why the f*** isn't this happening all over the United Kingdom and Ireland?

Simon: I think there are other groups like the Dredd screening groups, they don't meet up as often and I don't think they're as open to the fact that... like our group isn't just the 2000AD fans, there's guys who have never read it before and they come here and have just as much fun as the rest of us.  But then it's all-inclusive.

Laurence: There's some groups in London who are only for 2000AD and will tell anyone else to f*** off.  What?  Be all-encompassing!

Andy: I think some of the elements of the 2000AD 'zines seem to come from Scotland, more remote parts up north and I think there's something about the northern sensibility; Wagner, Grant and all, it's a very northern thing.  I think the mainland British indie and small press scene is immensely stronger.  It's relatively weak in Northern Ireland.  It's going on massively in the south and the mainland and this has been the case.  We're getting there (there's a general consensus around the table to this).  For the last twenty years 2000AD has been the only British comic on the market, otherwise it's been the indies.  I've said it before, there's two or three indie comics in print and are published on average each day of the year, but in Northern Ireland we're lucky there's twenty or thirty in a year.

Laurence: There's nothing bringing those things together, you know.  I know by the nature of an independent comic it's very hard to bring it in to something, but we need some sort of a base point which these sorts of things can orientate towards by sheer gravity and then we can broadcast out.  It needs focus.

Peter: To be fair Aaron the Comic Book Guy (a reference to Comic Book Guys, the independent comic shop in Belfast) has at least started that and is at least making an effort on it.  He's keen to do that and Aaron is someone who will always stock and do signings.


Laurence: It's time-determined.  You know I'm 47, Andy is Wookie age so is 3, but the older you get the less concerned with time you get but there needs to be an immediacy engendered into this s***.  It needs to happen in a day or week's time, it needs that speed that there was in 1979 or '80 or '85, it needs to be happening a lot quicker, ideas need to be created a lot quicker.  The vehicles are there to deliver that, the internet is there to deliver that.

Andy: When the creator is less lonely, when there's an input and a community surge of stuff it can be very empowering.

Andy goes on to tell me about the Belly Laughs Comedy Festival in Belfast at which he is helping out, where comics cartoonists will be doing "funny stuff, short stuff, but actual comics, no pin-ups or splash pages, it'll be sequential words and pictures".  More information can be found on the festival's website:



Then the last word was left to Laurence.

Laurence: If you're creative, you're a writer or you're in comics come down to our monthly meeting, enjoy yourself, talk to artists, talk to creators, talk to friendly people, talk to cosplayers, that's what  it's all about.

THE END

While I only got to chat with four members of
the team (more are mentioned in the review) it
takes a lot of dedicated people to produce
something this good

Obviously by now you'll be wanting your own copy of issue one if you haven't bought it yet.  It costs only £4.00 plus postage of £2.50 and can be ordered via PayPal using this email: Sector13@boxofrainmag.co.uk

Or you can read my glowing review first if you wish by clicking here.

Much, much more coming for the blog, I won't be away for long!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

COMIC BOOK HERO: NEW BARRIE TOMLINSON BOOK!

As regular readers will know by now, Wildcat and Ring Raiders were two of my favourite childhood comics and I've covered both before on the blog in the original Beyond Oink! series I did throughout 2015.  Well now their editor is on the cusp of releasing his new book about his time at IPC and Fleetway:


Barrie Tomlinson may say this book is about him "Working with Britain's Picture-Strip Legends", but he's something of a legend himself!  Having worked on a multitude of titles and strips the man was a tour de force in the UK comics scene in the 70s and 80s.  I've spoken briefly with him over Twitter and he is a fountain of knowledge for fans of any of these comics!  Indeed, the gent that he is, he's agreed to answer some questions this fan has about the aforementioned Ring Raiders and Wildcat for the blog, so look out for those towards the release date of Barrie's book!

When will that be then?  1st September, just a few short weeks from now.  Here's the description of the book from Amazon:

"In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, children's comics were a massive part of a young person's life.  Comic Book Hero tells the inside story of how Barrie Tomlinson built up a successful boy's publishing group at IPC Magazines - now the stuff of legend among nostalgic and modern-day fans of the UK comic scene and its surrounding culture.  Barrie started on Tiger comic as a subeditor, went on to be editor and eventually became head of the Boys' Sport and Adventure Department, in which capacity he launched Roy of the Rovers comic, the new Eagle, Scream, Speed, Wildcat, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and Toxic Crusaders.  The book tells about the Geoff Boycott, Big Daddy and Suzie Dando annuals he produced, and the 22 years spent writing the Scorer picture-strip for the Daily Mirror.  Barrie also reveals dealings with the top stars as they joined Tiger, to make the title one of the most famous comics in Britain."

Add into that impressive mix the much-loved Battle, there's a favourite of some friends of mine in the form of Mask, as well as another of the toys/comic combos from my own childhood, Super Naturals and this sounds like it could be more than just a book, it could be an event!  Will I be buying it then?  Silly question:


Expect a full write-up after I've devoured it, which will be as soon after I receive it as I possibly can.

In the meantime you can also pre-order the book from Amazon, where at the moment the 224-page hardback book is priced at £14.99.  Surely not to be missed by any UK comics fan, old and new.

In the meantime I've covered three of Barrie's titles on here before and you can read up on them by clicking on any of their names below:



I'm away now to put together these questions for the very gracious Barrie, some of which have been in my head since I read them at a much, much younger age than I am now!  Look out for a special two-part feature to coincide with the release of Comic Book Hero at the end of the month and there's much more to come from the Oink! Blog and Beyond between now and then.

SECTOR 13: FANZINE INTERVIEW PART 2



Welcome to part two of this special three-part interview with some of the creative team behind the brand new 2000AD fanzine from Belfast, Sector 13.  In case you missed it I posted a write-up about this first issue of the new small press comic on Wednesday and the first part of this interview yesterday.  The comic really is a quality read and some of its contents is on a par with the best of the weekly Prog.  I'd go so far as to say a certain strip in it is even better than something similar attempted in spin-off monthly, the Judge Dredd Megazine!  As luck would have it, that strip is the topic of this part of the interview.

Well, I say "interview", more like a casual chat I happened to record with these fine people:

From left to right: Pit Crew Cosplayer (and cover star) Simon McKnight, Script Droid Andy Luke, Art Droid Jawine Westland, Editorial Droid Peter Duncan and Script Droid Laurence McKenna

As I stated last time it was unfortunate the lovely Jawina had to leave early but hopefully I'll catch up with her in the near future when some of her artwork makes it into an issue.  Yesterday we covered the creation of Sector 13 as a whole, how it came about and their thinking behind it while they were putting it together.  One of the strips in the premiere issue was created with a mix of photographs and sublime Ryan Brown artwork and a good chunk of the chat was taken up discussing it's evolution, from a simple by-the-numbers photo strip to the superb end result.

It's important to note first though that Ryan is a 2000AD artist and works incredibly hard for the comic (and other titles).  His work is fantastic and he constantly has a large workload, which speaks volumes about how in demand he is.  He would sometimes come to the monthly meets as a local artist and meet some of the fans, where over time everyone got to know each other, striking up friendships amongst the group.  He wasn't hunted down by the team and asked to contribute, they knew how little time he would have on his hands.  It was from these friendships that Ryan became involved in Sector 13 as the guys explain.  So just to be clear, he's not available for other fanzines and requests, so close that email!  His workload is chock-a-block and the team were very clear how this happy instance came about this time.

Anyway, on with part two!  Enjoy.

PART TWO

The American Reaper strip from the Judge Dredd Megazine in 2015 was a photo strip written by Pat Mills with art by Clint Langley.  At the time I felt it had great art surrounding the photographs but the actors felt too staged, too posed and detached from that art, too superimposed.  It felt like the strips Oink! would take the hand out of.  It didn't help that to show off the photos each and every panel was a simple rectangle and there were fewer per page, to maximise the supposed impact of each one.  However this just meant an interesting story took twice as long to get anywhere and ultimately felt dragged out and lost its impact.  Because of this, when I opened Sector 13 for the first time I was initially disappointed there was a photo strip.  But I soon realised I was wrong about Justice Perverted, written by Laurence McKenna who also took the photos, with additional art by 2000AD artists Ryan Brown.

Laurence McKenna (Script Droid): If I was to do a photo strip it would have all those things that are criticised for being absent.  It would have movement, it'd have definition and colour, it'd have humour and character... and I'd get Ryan Brown to do most of it (everyone laughs).  Clint Langley was criticised because it felt posed.

Simon McKnight (Pit Crew Cosplayer): I always got the impression it was more, "Right this is the photograph, so what's the story?".

A couple of separate pages of American Reaper from
the Judge Dredd Megazine back in 2015

Me: As much as I liked the story behind American Reaper I couldn't take it seriously because it felt a lot like the photo stories Oink! would take the piss out of.

Laurence: A lot of what we did learn with our strip we learned from Ryan, from those Wednesday criticisms.  Like Ryan was going, "You're showing me a series of photographs (Laurence gestures towards a hypothetical series of same-size photos on a page), make it bigger, make it badder, foreshorten it, put movement into in, put blurs... both don't give a f*** about the background and focus on the background.

Peter Duncan (Editorial Input): And he understood where light was coming from and it was all that sort of stuff.

Laurence: All we did... what we basically did was we took on board what he was saying.  You could literally do a photo strip which is going to be three columns down, nine frames, boom, boom, nine photographs.  Which, to be fair, was probably what I had in mind.  But after about f*****g ten minutes of listening to Ryan and realising what we could actually do with modern technology, though I'm not using Photoshop or anything on this s***, I'm using free cut-and-snip stuff off the free app on the iPad.  But we were told (by Ryan) what we could do; you could engender movement, you could run it into a painting program, you could do all of that!  Our biggest difficulty with that photo strip was the framing.  Every frame you see in that photo strip is... well, we took the photos, we did all that, but Ryan Brown framed them.  He moved the thing.  He moved the story through.

Simon: Like this page here was literally like block picture, block picture, block picture, block picture.  Ryan came along and was like, "Naw, you gotta take it out, you gotta move it about, make this person and this explosion come off the page, take this picture and take it away from there and mix it up.  Don't bore the person, you have to have their eyes constantly shifting."  He's their cover artist so he's all about quickly relaying information and making it exciting and if you can engineer that into every single panel...

Sector 13's photos are much better integrated into
the art and thus the story too

Laurence: The Clint Langley thing in the Megazine was just photographs.  There were really very, very good embellished or enhanced photographs, but the whole thing that Ryan got through to us was the thing has to be a story, it has to have that life movement about it, it has to be bigger than life, it has to be smaller than life, it has to be weirder than life.  Just move it through.  And frame it.  Framing is everything.  The one thing that I've learned, and we've learned about storytelling is framing is everything.

Peter: With the Clint Langley thing, I think he was trying to make photographs look like a painting, we're not, we're trying to make photographs look as good as they can look.

Laurence: We're trying to make photographs tell a story.

Me: How many photo shoots did it take to tell this story then?

Simon: We had a bank of photographs which existed from comic con events and stuff, then we had lists of specific shots which we needed so at a couple of events we got guys together and basically posed them amongst the rest of the comic con crowd.

Peter: And were there a couple taken at Joanne's (Joanne Alexander, another Pit Crew Cosplayer) house?

Laurence: Oh of course.

The eye-catching first page of strip in the comic

Simon: So we just did that and then Laurence spent a multitude of hours just cutting out everything else apart from the person.

Laurence: Well no you forget to mention, Simon, when we took a walk from Laganside up to the City Hospital and we photographed all the really interesting... when you're doing a photo strip in Mega-City One the last f*****g thing you want are red bricks (laughter) or anything that isn't hard, sunburned, sun-kissed, poured concrete.  If it's not concrete we don't want to know.  We took photos of the In Shops, we took photos of all those wee underpasses, we took photos of what would've been envisioned as a futuristic creation in 1969.  Take that old building beside that old petrol station down on Great Victoria Street, it's a s***-hole but it's a s***-hole where some guy was actually aspiring towards the future.  So basically, you know, his aspiration in 1969 we took in January 2017 when it was in its rack and ruin, but that was what we wanted, we just wanted poured concrete which was f****d up.  Mega-City One is concrete that's f****d up, full of nut jobs ruled by fascists.  That's why we loved the 2012 Dredd movie, if you look at it, it's a s***-hole.

END OF PART TWO

You may have noticed Laurence doesn't mince his words and I'm glad to say this is a continuing theme for the third and final part of the interview which you can click to below.  I was thrilled to find out Sector 13 aren't simply confining themselves to this fanzine either, they have a mission to fuel the talent of creative individuals in Northern Ireland and the associated small press scene.  Next, we'll round things off by discussing how those monthly free-for-all meets have changed since I last attended, the small press scene here and how the group are positioning Sector 13.

If you've still to get caught up on the comic itself, or wish to buy a copy, you can do so by heading to my write-up from a few days ago by clicking here.