Thursday, 31 August 2017

COMING TOMORROW: BARRIE TOMLINSON WILDCAT INTERVIEW!


Two of my favourite comics growing up may not have lasted too long but that certainly wasn't anything to do with the quality of the contents, that's for sure!  I've covered both Wildcat and Ring Raiders as part of my initial Beyond Oink! series of posts a couple of years ago and tomorrow sees the release of Comic Book Hero, a brand new book from their editor, a Mr. Barrie Tomlinson, in which he discusses his time working on these and many, many others.

Barrie recently was very gracious in agreeing to answer some questions for me about both comics and so to celebrate the launch of his new book I'll be posting up a two-part special interview.  Part one will appear tomorrow and will focus on Wildcat, with the Ring Raiders half coming at the beginning of next week when Comic Book Hero plops through my letterbox.  Or rather, the red and white card does while I'm at work.


I've written up a quick preview of Comic Book Hero already and what you can expect from it and once you've read that I'm sure you'll be ordering the book just like me.  Once it arrives I'll be devouring it so expect a full write-up as soon as I'm through sometime during September.  In the meantime check out the previous post and also Amazon's listing for more details and come back tomorrow for the Wildcat half of my interview with Barrie, when he recollects his time creating from scratch and editing a comic which, at the time, was trying something new and different.  It was fresh, entertaining and had characters we truly loved even though it only lasted twelve issues before merging with Eagle, where its strips were so strong it's been written that it actually improved its older brother title!  We also discuss why these and other great, top quality comics ended up being cancelled just as they were finding their feet.

All this tomorrow and then part two with Ring Raiders a few days later.


Click on the book cover to order your copy now!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

PIG PAL PEOPLE: A PIGGIN' BIG ISSUE! - A FAN WRITE-UP

The hilarious Sara Pascoe is the cover star.
The hilarious Oink! is the star inside!

The Oink! Facebook group is not only a great place to chat with the team behind the comic, it's also a treasure-trove of pig pals both from the original time of its release and those who have discovered it for the first over the past few years.  What I always enjoy reading about are the talented individuals who read Oink! and went on to work in the creative industries in areas such as cartooning and writing.  There's a few I want to cover over the next couple of months and the first is a certain Mr. Dan Whitehead, a regular commenter both on the group and on Lew Stringer's two blogs (links are on the left under Sausage Links).

Dan works as a freelance writer, having written for everything from Amiga Computing to Star Wars.  One of the publications he's been published in regularly is Big Issue North, the north of England's local variant of the award-winning magazine sold out on the streets, raising money and awareness of poverty throughout the UK.  Each issue is always chock full of great articles and in the 20th June 2016 issue of North there was a special feature which would have been of particular interest to readers of this blog, a piece written by Dan to mark the 30th anniversary of Oink!  It's a fun read and wonderful to see our favourite comic make such a big appearance in a mainstream magazine again!

Dan obliged to answer some questions about the piece for me, doing so with some fantastic in-depth answers.  From fatefully opening an issue of Crash magazine to finally laying to rest a myth about Charlie Brooker's time on the comic, take it away Dan!

THE PIG ISSUE!

Me: Here we have a pig pal writing an article about Oink! for a published magazine.  Superb.  A lot of people said Oink! influenced them in a big way, such as modern day cartoonists, others say it's to "blame" for their sense of humour.  How about yourself?  What kind of mark did oink! leave on you?

Dan: The thing that always surprises me about Oink! is that it launched in 1986 when I was 13.  In my memories I was much younger when I read it, rather than halfway through high school.  I'd always had a weird sense of humour.  The stuff I gravitated towards as a kid was Danger Mouse and The Goodies; kids shows that had a very strong sense of the absurd and, for want of a better phrase, a post-modern approach to humour, where the construct of the gag itself was part of the gag.  But Oink! was still a revelation to me, I think because it was more tangible than a TV show, more permanent.  I mostly read action or adventure comics - EagleScream, 2000AD, Spider-Man & Zoids were my favourites - whereas my experience of humour comics mostly came from annuals at Christmas.  I was never a regular reader of The Beano or Whizzer & Chips as weeklies.

Simon Thorpe's excellent artwork heads up The Pig Issue

I discovered Oink! through the free sampler issue that was given away with Crash, a computer games mag.  Games were my main obsession from the early 80s onwards, but Oink! was the first "funny" comic that I actually found laugh-out-loud funny.  The other comics raised a smile or two, but I never really remember laughing at them.  Oink! was very different.  It really felt like something that shouldn't be on sale in a newsagents down the road.  Not because of its content as such, but its style.  It was such an anarchic mixture of material - from the lavishly paint parodies to scratchy single panel gags.  It felt very punk.  It felt that it was the first - and probably only - comic that was geared directly at my sensibilities and, I suppose, made for my generation rather than just a continuation of the comics my dad had read as a kid.

Me: The Big Issue having a feature on Oink! for its 30th anniversary seems like a natural fit, with the magazine often having that raw feel too.  What made you think of Oink! for Big Issue North and how open were they to the idea?

Dan: I've been friends with Lew Stringer for many years now.  After my 'A'-levels I ended up working in publishing, mostly working on games magazines, but I also spent some time working on kids comics in the 1990s.  One of them was a very short-lived spin-off from the In My Pocket range of toys called Jokes & Magic In My Pocket.  The idea was a range of pocket money practical jokes and magic tricks that the comics would promote.  Unlike the other comics in the range which were based around puppies and ponies this one had no characters, so as the editor I had to make some up.  Taking blatant inspiration from Whizzer & Chips I came up with two warring gangs devoted to jokes and magic, who would split the comic between them.  Lew came aboard to write and draw the comic strips that would link the How To guides.

Patrick with the original dummy issue used as proof of concept

Many years later I found myself working as a freelancer for Big Issue North, doing their TV coverage and later DVD and games reviews.  I also pitch in with interview features when asked - I've done the likes of Tom Hanks and Anthony Hopkins for them - and when something crosses my path I think is interesting and has a good northern angle I pitch it to them.  When I was reminded that 2016 was Oink!'s 30th anniversary I knew a feature on its Manchester origins would be a good fit for the mag.  I also knew that, via Lew, I could probably get in touch with people like Patrick Gallagher and Tony Husband.  Getting to talk with Tony was a particular pleasure for me, as I spent my teen years living in Stalybridge, just down the road from Hyde where he lives and the knowledge that an Oink! cartoonist lived nearby was very glamorous to me - even in Tameside!

Me: I've met Patrick myself and he's still rather crazy all these years later!  It's surprised me how approachable he is to fans of his work.  How did you find working with him for your article?

Dan: He was great.  Really helpful and keen to talk about every aspect of Oink!, which was a relief.  Sometimes when interviewing people about something they did three decades ago they can be a bit prickly about it - an understandable sense of, "Well I guess that was my peak" - but Patrick seems genuinely proud and excited that Oink! is still so well loved and remembered.  Which is exactly how it should be.  I think most of us would be happy to create something that is still adored after thirty years.

Pig pal, writer and after-midnight Mogwai-feeder Dan Whitehead

Me: There's some great quotes from Charlie Brooker in there, were you actually able to speak with him about Oink!?  Anything you can tell us about that if you did?  After all, it's been said before (on the internet with no sources, I might add) he's a bit embarrassed of his work on Oink! and that's just something I never wanted to believe.  From your article I think that myth can finally be put to bed, thankfully.  If you didn't speak with him directly how did you get such great quotes?

Dan: As you probably know, Charlie worked on PC games magazines before doing TV Go Home and from there moving into telly.  My background is also in games magazines and, while our paths never crossed, we have friends and colleagues in common, so I was able to reach out to him that way.  It was all done by email, sadly, but I didn't get the sense he was ashamed of his work in Oink! at all.  Conscious that his strips were very much the amateur doodling of a teenager perhaps, and maybe wary of having his contributions blown out of proportion but certainly not ashamed.  He has his own TV production company now and so does Patrick, so wouldn't it be great if they rejoined forces to create a new kids' show in the spirit of Oink! or Round the Bend?  Of course, these days every kids' comic and TV show is like Oink! - even Beano does fart gags now - so maybe the time has passed.  Oink! kicked in the doors and did what it needed to do and I count myself very lucky to have been there as a pig pal at the time.

You and I both, Dan and yes, that would be a fantastic team-up to have those two working together on a television show of some sort, whether for children or even another audience.  Thanks for your time!


- - -

Dan's back catalogue of work is huge and includes some very unique comics such as Hex Loader which combines Spectrum computer games with the disappearance of a programmer and ancient sorcery.  He's also written graphic novel adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe and Jason and the Argonauts, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.  His own website has details of the impressive list of magazines, books, comics and videogames he's written for and it's well worth checking out.

Big Issue North's own site has a back issues page which you can check to see if this issue is available (check back again if it isn't, some can reappear).

Finally, The Big Issue and its associated spin-offs have achieved a great deal in their time and you can find out more about their work by checking the About page of their main website.

Thanks again to Dan for being a good sport and I look forward to chatting on the Facebook group and on Lew's blogs with you.  More interviews and chats to come pig pals, stay tuned.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

THE CULT COMIC: A CHAT WITH TONY HUSBAND

Recently I've written about the press clippings often found in Oink!, including those of pop stars and celebrities endorsing the piggy publication.  Think of this as a follow-up to that, but it deserved a post all of its own...

Only the third issue I ever owned

Back in the 80s I remember seeing copies of magazines such as Smash Hits and the like in the hands of siblings and friends.  I'd also read the Knight Rider and The A-Team strips in Look-In, the "Junior TV Times" and once a week my mum would spend half an hour moaning as my brother and sisters would torture her with Top of the Pops.  As the youngest of five I was constantly surrounded by the music of the era, which explains why I'm obsessed with 80s music nowadays (he writes as he listens to the Apple Music 80s radio station).

But anyway, one band I'd often hear coming from my brother's hi-fi was The Cult, even though it'd be much later in life that I'd find out who sang the brilliant She Sells Sanctuary (clear memories of this one) that once echoed around that house.  You can imagine my brother's surprise when, in November 1986, I handed him the latest issue of the silly new comic I'd started getting and told him one of his favourite bands was inside.  He thought it was just going to be a silly drawing or something but it wasn't.  It was... um... a silly interview instead with The Cult's co-founder and lead vocalist Ian Astbury, conducted by Oink!'s piggy pop presenter Janice Pong!:

One of #16's great text-heavy articles

(Oink! #16 had quite a few pages which looked like actual articles from music magazines rather than strips, but then again that's what Oink! did best, it lampooned everything around it.  They may have looked like a magazine article, or a pop profile or a diary feature, but take a closer look and you'd find something much better!  Go and have a look at #16's blog post from November 2013 to see what I mean.  But come back!)

In reality Janice was actually co-editor and Oink! co-creator Tony Husband, whose strips included the likes of Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins and The Slugs.  Looking back I now think this interview happening at all in the pages of a comic was quite insane!  It begged for more information on how it came about and Tony was very obliging in answering some questions for me.  In the end I had a really fun, and very funny, telephone conversation with him which started on the topic of the page above but soon went off on a tangent to cover everything from the creation of Oink! in the first place, to its standing in the Manchester music scene, breakfast TV, drunken train journeys and much more!  What I was originally planning on being a quick post with a few queries finally answered, has ended up being the perfect example of what a fantastic storyteller Tony is.  Get yourself comfortable and enjoy.

A BREAKFAST BASHING

So I asked Tony how the interview came about and he told me he'd found out Ian Astbury was actually a fan of Oink!  This wasn't unusual in the Manchester music scene of the day.  The band Rhythm Pigs, DJ John Peel and many rock bands were all followers of Uncle Pigg et all.  To this day Tony's life is very much based around music, with a drum kit in his home alongside 1000s of records and his own studio.  In the 80s Oink!'s offices in the city were just upstairs from the Happy Mondays' manager's office, Dave Haslam's office was next door, they obviously had a close connection in Frank Sidebottom and former The Fall member and future 6Music radio presenter Marc Riley joined the team, being old school friends with fellow Oink! editor Patrick Gallagher.  (I was very glad to hear Tony and Marc are still close friends to this day.)   Indeed, the team thought of themselves as being like a rock band who just happened to produce a comic and this metaphor is how Tony sums up the whole Oink! experience perfectly.

The daft Madvert that breakfast TV wasn't too enamoured with

The "rock'n'roll madness", as Tony describes it, led to some hilarious scenarios, such as when he and Patrick were invited to London to appear on a breakfast TV show.  Firstly, they thought they were heading down to appear as a form of promotion for this new and highly original hit comic which was appealing to a new demographic of young readers, but the first question foisted upon them asked if they felt joking about smashing up friends' bicycles was the "right message to send", completely missing the point of the humour in Oink!  But it was worth the sudden shock and typical faux-offence for five minutes, because the guys' expenses were all paid for, including travel and a night in a 5-star hotel!  Then on the return train Tony brought out onto the table a few of the small bottles of booze he'd sneaked out from his hotel room's courtesy bar, thinking they'd have a tipple on the way home, only for Patrick to empty out a plastic bag full of every single bottle from his room!  By the time they hit Manchester they could hardly walk off the train...

THE CULT COMIC WITH A 'CULT' FOLLOWING

Back to The Cult interview and it was performed over the telephone after Tony was able to get in touch with Ian through his agent.  He says he was great to talk to and for Tony it was quite the thrill, being a fan of the group already and finding out their lead singer was a fan of his work.  Ian was game for a laugh in being interviewed by the fictional spoof character and Tony has nothing but fond memories of the experience.  While he can't quite remember the source of the original information about Ian being a pig pal, he can quite clearly remember something which happened after the interview was over.  At the end of the call Ian, this huge rock star, told Tony he'd ordered two Oink! mugs and two t-shirts but had only received one of each and asked if he could look into it!  It was a surreal moment that's for sure.  Sure enough Tony did and got it sorted!

Ian Astbury circa mid-80s, from the band's
official Facebook page

He wasn't the only singer to query if the team could send him something however.  While the name of the performer is lost to memory, a reader whose dad was an Irish singer had sent in some recordings to the team, knowing they (or the characters) were music fans and wanted to share his dad's songs.  It wasn't long after this that said father phoned the guys up, asking if they could be sent back as they were the only recordings of some of the songs and his son hadn't told him what he'd done with them!

ART AND MUSIC IN PERFECT HARMONY

As we chatted Tony shared some great stories of his time on Oink!  He told me how he wasn't in comics full-time when it was created and how he'd met Patrick through Mark Rodgers, after Mark had noticed Patrick in a local library working on comic strips.  They all met over several drinks in local pubs and their own flats, the immediate chemistry setting into motion what would eventually become the comic we'd all love.  Writer and cartoonist Graham Exton was in those early meetings too and at one stage IPC's Bob Paynter wanted to meet with the fledgling team to discuss the comic.  But he wanted to do it somewhere secret because everything was still in the early stages and he didn't want word getting out about the publisher's new, very different comic.  So they met up at Manchester airport, but unfortunately this happened to be on the same day "all the cartoonists in the world" arrived on their way to Tenerife for a cartoon convention and they all recognised Tony!

The musical links come thick and fast throughout the Oink! run (not least in Tony's The Slugs punk band strip) and this extended to those brought in to work on it.  Not just Marc Riley as mentioned above, but also Jon Langford of The Mekons fame.  I've covered Jon before on the blog and showed off some of his work, plus there's a link to his own site in the 'Sausage Links' section in the left coloumn there, which is chock full of superb music and artwork.  But what I didn't know until now was that's also a band of his, The 3 Johns, below The Cult interview in #16!

The Mekons make a memorable guest appearance.
Click here to read the rest in #40

It's clear Tony has such fond memories of his time working on Oink! where there were no egos, just a fantastic team creating something unique and genuinely funny and just like the rest of us he believes it holds up really well today.  He only discovered this, however, thanks to his wife.  Over the years he'd met fans and pig pals and would give away signed issues here and there, until he'd none left!  So a few years ago, much to his surprise, Mrs Husband bought the whole collection on eBay for around £300!  From creating it, to buying it all back from a reader.

MY MY HEY HEY OINK OINK

In closing, Tony said he thinks of a certain Neil Young lyric when he reminisces about Oink! and its successful, albeit short time on the shelves.  The song My My Hey Hey includes the line, "Better to burn out than fade away" and thinking back to the comic Tony feels it lasted just the right amount of time.  While it wasn't their decision to cancel it, he truly believes if it had carried on indefinitely it may have become tired and lost its edge; the time was right to move on.  As a result, while the industry tried and failed to copy the formula with numerous copycat titles, Oink! went out on a high, it never lost that edge and is not only fondly remembered today but is still being discovered by new fans young and old, who are finding it just as funny as we did (and do).

Tony's best-selling book tells a very personal tale

Tony is still hard at work, as I said above he's got his own music studio, he also does talks on cartooning, contributes frequently to Private Eye, can often be seen on Countryfile on BBC One and recently released a book which has proved incredibly popular, which he travels around to talk about too, with a large one coming up in Manchester.  Called Take Care Son, it's the tale of how dementia slowly took Tony's dad away from his loved ones.  The title is a reference to the last words his dad said to him before he passed and the story is framed within a chat between the two men.  I'll be picking it up myself very soon so look out for it here on the blog, though you won't have to wait for my write-up, just take a look at the book's entry on Amazon and you'll know all you need to, to make your decision about buying it.

Thanks very much to Tony for the lovely chat, it was great to talk to you and hopefully it won't be long until the next one.  Who knows, maybe I just will end up in Manchester one of these days for that drink after all.

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.

Friday, 11 August 2017

SECTOR 13: FANZINE INTERVIEW PART 1


So here we go with something rather different for my blog and a first for me really.  I never thought I'd get to the stage where I'd be interviewing anyone for the site, but here I am with some great ones lined up over the next few months (indeed, there's one I was meant to get around to months ago!) but I'm starting off with what is undoubtedly the perfect first interview to kick them off, with people I knew already, in a pub, over a Guinness and with a whole load of fun thrown in.

A few years ago I started collecting 2000AD and was instantly entranced with a certain part of it: the universe of Judge Dredd.  After a year though I found I was constantly letting issues build up by the dozen and, in a time when I had decided to cut back on a lot of luxuries to get on top of my finances, I couldn't justify continuing my subscription.  But I promised myself once I was in a better place I'd be back!  Sure enough last year, debt-free, I decided I wanted to get reacquainted with Joe Dredd and asked for the first volume of the Complete Case Files series of graphic novels for Christmas, a series I'm now collecting one-a-month, reading his story right from the very beginning.  Look out for them to be covered on the blog soon... with a little catching up to do since I'm on volume five!

Back when I collected the weekly Progs though, I met up now and again at a monthly meet with fellow fans in Belfast for a few drinks of a Saturday afternoon.  Fast-forward to the Enniskillen Comic Fest this year, my first comic con (and a big turning point for the blog) and not only had their meets grown somewhat but they'd also released the first issue of their own comic, Sector 13: Belfast's 2000AD Fanzine.  Obviously I bought it and just three days ago I finally got around to writing it up.

Image (C) Discover Northern Ireland

I wanted to review it as part of a series of posts about the comic which would include a conversation with the team behind it.  So once the blog went through a bit of a redesign (which is still ongoing) and the Relive Oink! section was completed I arranged to meet them at one of their weekly jaunts to The Parlour bar in Belfast where they were gathering to work on the next issue.

From week-to-week the turnout can vary and, while it was initially disappointing not to see 2000AD artist Ryan Brown there (who I'd met during a pre-show session in the same bar before a screening of Future Shock a couple of years ago, and who I can confirm is an absolute gent), it was a superb night and the team were very open and honest about the making of Sector 13.  They welcomed being interviewed for The Oink! Blog and it was a pleasure to do so, although for the most part it didn't require a lot of questioning on my part, they simply opened up and we chatted away.

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.  Lifelike aren't they?

While the rear of the first issue gives specific roles to the people involved it's very much a team effort and it was clear everyone involved works closely together in any and all capacities to produce this superb comic.  After chatting at length with the lovely Jawine and looking at all of the equally lovely drawings she was working on right there in the pub she unfortunately had to leave early, so the following interview was with the remainder of the team above.  It's rather lengthy and so I've split it into three distinct parts.  Part two will focus on the gorgeous photo story Justice Perverted and part three on the Northern Ireland small press scene and how they're positioning Sector 13.

PART ONE

This initial part focusses generally on Sector 13, where it came from, its creation and future.  Over the course of these three posts you may notice quite a bit of asterisk usage, this is a family-friendly blog after all but hey this is Belfast!  Plus, after a video of some friends and I playing Overcooked on the Nintendo Switch (and my own choice language) was posted on Facebook I can't really say anything..... but anyway, I digress.  On with the show!

Me: So where did it all begin?  When did you decide to work on a fanzine and how long did it take to put this issue together?  Tell me about its inception.

Peter Duncan (Editorial Input): We decided we wanted to do something and then the fact the Enniskillen Comic Festival was so 2000AD-orientated it almost became that this was what we were doing as a group for the festival, so that's where the deadline came from.

Simon McKnight (Pit Crew Cosplayer): I think it was the start of the year when we really nailed down the bits.

Me: So it only took you those few months to put this all together?!

Andy Luke (Script Droid): It felt like f*****g forever!  Jesus Christ!

Peter: Simon's right, it really only started in January, it only really coalesced in January, definitely.

Simon: With the help and advice from people like Ryan (Brown) on going to the printers and stuff, I think that helped a lot.  The momentum behind the group was there and if it'd been a smaller group we could easily have fallen apart, but having the Enniskillen deadline was something that drove us and kept us going all the way.

Peter: The person who is missing today is Mark (McCann, writer W.D. McQuaid) because Mark wrote two of the stories and ran his artists and they were working right up to the last minute.  He had difficulty in artist wrangling in some ways, but that stuff got done and Ryan almost ran an online helpdesk for them.

Peter with writer Mark McCann aka W.D. McQuaid with the
Sector 13 stand at the Enniskillen Comic Fest, where I first met
Peter over a mutual love of a piggy pink publication

Laurence McKenna (Script Droid): Literally the Wednesday meetings were insanely interesting and fun from probably about March onwards, almost like a professional meeting.

Peter: The artists got masterclasses from Ryan, they really did.  I'm not sure Ryan really understood how good those were...

Laurence: ... and fairly brutal masterclasses I might add.  As you may have seen already tonight (referring to some very funny chats before the interview), we're fairly caustic about what goes into this but at the end of the day this is the only way it'll work.  But it's not ill-intended, it's not negative, it's literally to extract as much f*****g water from that dry stone as we possibly can, you know.

Peter then points out the spelling error on the front cover which apparently shows my copy is from the first printing, although he does go on to point out this makes up the majority of all sold so far.

Laurence: The one thing that we did say was we did give a guarantee as a group that we would, as a platform, make it as professional as it could possibly be, hence the production qualities in terms of the paper, in terms of the print quality and whatnot.  We really did say, "If you guys can deliver us good work we will boost that in as much as we possibly can".  That's the one thing we're very, very proud of.  Probably an awful lot of people way before that print came were probably going, "It's going to be a f*****g colour-photocopied-sheets-stapled-together fanzine", you know.  That was never our intention.

Andy: That's the way I like to do my comics, as cheap and nasty and from the minute I joined this group there was just this sense of reaching out to me as a creator, this is what I do full-time, these people saying to me, "We want to support what you do and look out for you".  I'm not a 2000AD reader like a lot of the folks here but it was very much about recognising my talent and waving the flag around at it.  If I'm prepared to turn in good work I know these people will get it out to as many folk as they can.

Laurence: You know at heart this group is a 2000AD-loosely-focussed group.  But 2000AD isn't Judge Dredd, it isn't Strontium Dog.  The thing we all love about 2000AD is the D.R. and Quinch, or the Future Shocks or the weird wee funny stories that appeared for a few months and we loved forever and that's where the likes of Andy come in.  2000AD allows for more than just a run of heroic stereotypes or anti-heroic stereotypes, it's more than that; it's broad, it's all-encompassing and that's why Andy just dovetails into this.

Andy: Yeah it's the attitude.

Laurence: Yeah it is... sorry, I spent five minutes talking there and Andy distilled it all into one phrase.

Peter: But there's other people who we wouldn't have got this done well without, so we had John Farrelly (pin-up Art Droid) who designed our inside front cover and drew Fitztharg (cousin of Tharg the Mighty) and the printers at Cathedral Graphics went above and beyond.  So we turned into them files that weren't all the right size and files that didn't have the proper bleeds on them and the printer did that graphic design for us.  We learned so much by what we did wrong but we were very lucky that we'd people who helped us.

Laurence: Hence the well-honed, professional machine you see here.  (Everyone laughs)

Evidence of the well-honed machine in #1

I mention how surprised I was by the quality of something calling itself a "fanzine", that it's something you'd expect from a Judge Dredd fan club for example, thinking back to the quality magazines I used to receive from the 007 Fan Club years previous.

Laurence: Exactly Phil, it's a 2000AD fanzine and 2000AD to me, growing up in the 70s and early 80s was a big, A4-sized f*****g cornucopia of colour, delight and fear, uncertainty and disturbance and brilliance, you know.  2000AD has to be professional, it has to cast out of it, it has to jump out of the pages.

It's important to note at this point the team couldn't say enough great things about 2000AD and its owners Rebellion before (and after) this actual interview.  Indeed the comic itself is in the best shape it's been in many, many years and this is thanks not only to the huge gamut of writing and artistic talent the comic has but also to its editor Matt Smith.  Listening to the comic's podcast called The 2000AD Thrill Cast whenever Matt is interviewed it's clear to any listener just how passionate he is about the comic he overseas and the amount of work he puts in to ensuring each Prog is the best it can be.  In fact I've personally just finished listening to one episode which acts as an introduction to writing for Judge Dredd and the writers and artists contributing say the same about him.  Rebellion was definitely something I wanted to ask the team about.

Me: Have you had any contact from Rebellion?

Laurence: Yeah, Matt Smith (2000AD Editor) was basically extremely surprised we'd put a fanzine together without his authorisation (everyone laughs).  Mind you, he was even more surprised when I told him that Michael Molcher (2000AD PR Droid) had even us permission (more laughter).

Me: Now can that be mentioned on the blog?

Laurence: Aye, fire away!

Peter: And that a copy of the fanzine appeared on his desk as quickly as we possibly could, because I'd posted it the day we got it.

Laurence: We haven't heard back from their lawyers (laughter).

Peter: But to be fair about 2000AD, they have a few rules.  They don't want you to mess with their properties, so you're not doing something outrageous.  They say we don't make a profit.  But there's ourselves and then there's Zarjaz and we're not associated with 2000AD in any way.  It's not that we're 'tolerated', I think they welcome the fact that people like their characters enough...

Laurence: I think they probably know that this is in essence a work of love.  The thing that you see in front of you is a work of utter love.  Days and weeks and months spent over each frame in that, it's a work of utter love.  I think Rebellion did get that.

Andy: Is it really a 'zine though?  As that could sit on the shelves alongside 2000AD.

Peter: That's the question.  I think it really is a fanzine, though I'd refer to it as a small press comic.  You could call it a small press comic which is like what Lew (Stringer) does.  Lew's comics are really good quality, they're really well printed and if you look at the moment there's a complete revolution in the small press.  It's the thing I'm most interested in at the moment, the small press stuff.

We get to discussing comics in general and how I've come to be interested in the small press too, initially from the Oink! team, then at the Enniskillen festival I met Jenika Ioffreda and started reading Vampire Free Style.

Laurence: You do know Phil, Jenika has undertaken to do work for us as well.

Me: Has she?

Laurence: She's gonna do the nicest Judge in Mega-City One (laughter).

Peter: She's agreed to do a Misty-type story for Splank too (Splank is a new small press title being put together by Peter which I'll be covering soon), because one of the first things she did and had published was a story for what was the equivalent of what Sector 13 is to 2000AD; there was the equivalent for Misty at one stage.  There were two Misty summer specials brought out by an amateur crowd and Jenika did one of the stories for them.

Me in Enniskillen with two contributors to future editions of
Sector 13, Oink!'s very own Davy Francis (who is doing a
humour strip for them) alongside Jenika Ioffreda

Laurence: It's great seeing Misty coming back as well.  (This is a reference to the brand spanking new Scream and Misty special coming from Rebellion this Halloween, in case you hadn't heard.)

Me: It seems Egmont didn't really do an awful lot with these classic comics, whereas Rebellion seems to 'get' them, understand them and so far is doing them justice.

Peter: I did hear that Black Max is going to be reprinted from Thunder, which is just this beautiful strip about a World War German fighter ace with his tri-plane and his giant bat!  It was the most wonderful comic strip.  Stuff the story, just the visuals!  I think it was Eric Bradbury.

Laurence: I think it was, actually.  It's almost like that old Marvel strip they had in Star Wars Weekly with the dude who was part of some future federation who lived on this ice planet, he had no eyesight but he had this hawk who flew around.

Me: So is Zarjaz still going?

Peter: Zarjaz is still going, yes.  I'd say it's been going on at least ten years.

Laurence: Yeah, I'd say ten, twelve years then.

Me: Do you see yourselves as having the same longevity and how often do you see Sector 13 coming out?  Once a year?  Twice a Year?

Laurence: We don't know, we're probably... physically we're probably going for twice a year.  If there's enough work and enough momentum... we probably couldn't do it more than three times a year.

Simon: It's about getting the stories and the artwork done.  The backlog of that is we're so far behind we can only really do it every six months.

Me: So when it's ready it's ready.

Laurence: There's no full-time editors or teams, all of this is done here.

Me: So you going for Halloween?

Laurence: Yeah, we're going for Halloween.

Simon: I think it's really important to have some sort of landing date otherwise it's too easy to let it slip and then it ends up next year sometime.  You gotta have a go and everyone has to be on board.

Laurence: There's enough momentum.  We released that one in May and we could do it roughly every six months.  We meet here once a week, a lot of people can't come, there's obviously issues with any creative enterprise.  Like, there's people who are creative and cooperate, there are people who are creative and don't cooperate, there are people who are not creative and don't cooperate (laughter).  So you've all of that.  The bottom line though is we have deadlines.  Tonight surprisingly enough is one of those deadlines, the next deadline will be at the end of August and the final deadline will be the end of September.  There'll be a lot of work in-between that but it's really really, really, really hard work pulling this stuff together.  You get an awful lot of setbacks you know, but you also get an awful lot of huge boosts.  You look at people's artwork and go, "F*** that's brilliant!", like we have for Adam Brown's poster (for #2)!

The Future Shock tale takes advantage of two completely
different art styles from two talented artists, namely
David Yeh (left) and Duncan Vaughan (right)

Me: Was it a group decision to have two completely different artists for the Future Shock story?

Laurence: No that's all creator-based, they can do what they want within the context around that.

Peter: That was Mark's decision, the writer.

Laurence: As long as, basically, it's not infringing on any copyright laws or laws of the state basically, we don't really give a s*** and to be honest with you, we'd be borderline laws of the state as well.

Peter: Our main concern would be we don't want to offend Rebellion where they'd tell us to stop.

Simon: If you don't come up on their radar at all ever again, then you're doing it right.

Laurence: Our next conversation with Rebellion is going to be "cease and desist".  Which is not a conversation we want to have.

Me: They've been fine with Zarjaz all these years.

Peter: Yeah and we want the same relationship with them.

END OF PART ONE

The next part of the interview is up now and focusses on how the team put together a photo story of such high quality for their first attempt.  It's not simply a matter of taking some shots and throwing on some speech bubbles you know!  Click on the link at the bottom of this post for a fascinating look at how it all came about with the help of Ryan Brown.

Also, if you fancy some more to read you can check out these previous posts:

To buy your own issue click right here:
Complete write-up on the comic itself

Meeting Peter and Mark, Lew, Davy and Jenika and discovering so much!

VAMPIRE FREE STYLE #1: DON'T MICIA IT!
A review of the first issue in Jenika's series

Then for the reviews of Lew Stringer's small press titles covered so far: