Friday, 29 June 2018

PIG PAL PEOPLE: CAROL S-KAY-RY

It's time for our third instalment of Pig Pal People, the series of posts where I chat to those pig pals who not only grew up with Oink!, but were inspired by it.  Already we've spoken with a freelance writer and a comics creator who shared their memories of the comic and how it did more than simply make them laugh, it formed an important part of their life.

This time, it's the turn of Carol-Kay, a pig pal who I can always remember being part of the Oink! scene on social media going back many years now.  I should say at this point the pun in the title of this post isn't a reference to how terrifying a person Carol is (she isn't, honest), it's to do with a regular, yearly comic she's been contributing to for ten years now; a wonderful tribute to a classic British weekly.  Working in the small press and on individual commissions, Carol's work is on display at the DeviantArt website and her page is a treasure trove of art that crosses many different styles and genres.

I'm certainly getting some wonderful pictures from pig pals
for their profile "photo" in these posts.  This one is just delightful

I was eager to ask Carol all about her illustrations, comics work and commissions.  I find her eclectic range fascinating and couldn't wait to find out more.  Included here are some samples but I highly recommend you check her work out for yourself, after you've read the following interview, naturally.

"Erasurehead"

The Oink! Blog and Beyond: You've been part of the Oink! community online for a long time now, what's your memory of Oink! as a kid?

Carol: It was just delightfully rude and gleefully absurd.  You never knew what to expect and that was a big part of its appeal.  The collection of different artists and writers, many of whom came from a non-comics background, gave us this wonderful variety of art styles and ideas.  We 80s kids were pretty lucky to get such a forward-thinking comic.

TOBaB: I see on your DeviantArt page you're now based in Australia, have you always lived there or were you a resident of the UK when you were a child?  Just curious about your feelings on how the comic scenes compare, especially the small press with you contributing to Hallowscream.

Carol: As a child I lived in Inverness, Scotland until I was 13, then the family moved to Australia.  I've only been involved with two publications so far, Hallowscream and SF Commentary (an Australian science fiction magazine), so I can't really compare yet.  But there is a thriving local comics scene, if you look at, say, Dark Oz and Sticky Institute.

"Be Careful What You Wish For"

TOBaB: You've previously told me you also would've read Eagle and Scream as a kid, so given you've gone on to develop your own style, selling some of your work and commissions, what kind of impact did these comics have on you back then?

Carol: At the time, I realised how much storytelling enjoyment comics and magazines (like Story Teller) could provide.

I used to read a bit of Tricky Dicky and Commando too.  I think that this wide variety of art styles helped me develop my own style over the years, but I didn't really think about doing them myself until the whole graphic novel movement came along.  Like Lorenzo Mattotti's books Fires and Murmur.

I also came across Viz at that time, despite being way too young for it.  But as soon as my parents saw it, it went straight back to the shop!  Bah.


TOBaB: How would you describe your art style to anyone not yet familiar with your work?

Carol: Well, I've been influenced by German Expressionism with its dark contrasts, and Surrealism for its way of turning concepts on their head and examining the world around us in a new way.  So I'm not sure what to call it, except modern gothic?

TOBaB: What kind of commissions do you draw?  Do you have a particular type or genre you like to stick to, or do you decide on each one individually?

Carol: Basically I decide on each one individually.  My style depends on what's best for the story, although I've done a fair variety of different illustrations, from a children's book to SF magazines to comics.  The different styles and genres are great practice, too.

World Con art

TOBaB: I hadn't previously heard of Hallowscream until you told me about it, so I'm now catching up on all the previous issues.  You've been with it from the beginning, how did that come about?

Carol: About ten years ago I came across a great tribute site to Scream, called Back From The Depths.  I joined their forum and we all started talking about how cool it would be to do a tribute issue, which we ended up calling Hallowscream.  Well, we're now working on #10 and it's been a lot of fun.


TOBaB: It's now a well established yearly event, available for download and on Issuu, but what was it like putting that first issue together?

Carol: Well, it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too.  Seeing the finished issue finally come together out of all the bits and pieces of our contributions was so satisfying.  "Look!  It's a real comic now!"  Props to the writers/editors and the other artists for all their amazing work.

TOBaB: Obviously the next issue is shrouded in mystery so far, but I'll be cheeky here and ask if there's anything you can tell us about your contribution to this year's issue?

Carol: Let's see, it's a variation on a classic Edgar Allan Poe horror story.  It involves hearts and it's wonderfully odd.

I also like to keep up with new stuff that the Oink! crew are doing, like Charlie Brooker and his fantastic show Black Mirror.  How good is that show?!

- - -

I completely agree Carol!  Thanks so much for taking part and I'm probably not the only one who is eagerly awaiting this year's Hallowscream, which I'm sure will pop up right here on the blog too.

It's always a thrill to read how Oink! helped inspire the young minds of its readers and to see the quality being produced by pig pals not only across the UK, but now across the globe!

So to check out Carol's work, click right here to visit her DeviantArt profile.

If you'd like to read previous issues of Hallowscream you can do so right here.

The comic's team at Back from the Depths are always on the lookout for quality script and art submissions, so go have a read of their website if you'd like to contribute yourself.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

2000AD SCI-FI SPECIAL: EMPOWERING COMICS

This gorgeous, eye-catching cover is by Tula Lotay
and is right up there with my favourite from 2000AD!

As a kid I was fascinated with my friends' copies of this comic for the Judge Dredd strips inside and as an adult I began a subscription a few years back and was instantly a fan.  However, with anthology titles it's usual that sometimes you'll love some issues from cover-to-cover, while others could have a few strips which don't tickle your fancy as much.  Completely to be expected and Dredd's stories always kept me enthralled.  But by the end of that first year I found I had sixteen issues of 2000AD and four issues of Judge Dredd Megazine sitting unread and I just decided to cancel the subscriptions and concentrate on Joe's own strips and those set in the same universe.  I'm doing this by going back to the very beginning (a series of posts here and, hopefully, somewhere else on the internet coming soon), also deciding to buy the graphic novel collections of other characters and stories I really liked too.  So why have I bought this 2000AD Sci Fi Special?

Rebellion have released a 52-page comic here completely written, drawn, coloured and lettered by an all-female creative team.  We're seeing a movement across the world at the moment where people are fighting for equality across genders, sexualities, races etc. in many ways and it's great to see.  Of course, it's horrible the world has got to the stage where things like the Women's Marches have become necessary, but I fully support their causes and if anyone wants to moan about this special's premise may I politely suggest you go and find another blog to follow.  As soon as I heard about this I knew I wanted to support such an important comic, but I was also intrigued about what it would contain and if it'd be any different to the usual weekly.  So let's dive right in with the main event himself, Judge Dredd.


I actually listened to the 2000AD Thrill-Cast after reading this issue, in which the comic's Publicity Droid interviewed a lot of the women behind this issue and Dredd writer Emma Beeby (Survival Geeks, The Alienist and the first women ever to write Dredd a few years back) is very entertaining, very funny and goes into depth about the creation of this story.  Dredd finds himself up against a new airborne drug, but in this case it's one which initially seems to actually make people nice.  That first page above sums it up pretty well, with Judges hugging perps and people sharing feelings.  Upon reading it I could see this would be something that'd place Dredd completely outside his comfort zone.  But I also thought it was a cheeky dig at the kind of people who'd make stupid comments online about what an all-women creative team would mean for 2000AD.  In the podcast interview Emma confirmed both of my suspicions.  Brilliant stuff!

It makes for some very funny moments from the gruff, dead pan Dredd and the resolution isn't a matter of the expected this-drug-has-hidden-side-effects ending.  It does exactly what it says on the tin, it makes people share their feelings and it's from this where the problems arise.  Very original and clever, I loved this story.  Plus I loved the art!  Babs Tarr's (Batgirl, Motor Crush) Manga-esque style is something very new for Dredd and I love it.  It's perfect for this story, feels highly animated and is covered in pink, which Emma found hilarious for this special!  I really like the black dots used throughout, which manage to somehow keep the feeling of this being set in the gritty world of Mega-City One amongst all the pink and cartoon-like art.  There's even a different take on Dredd's uniform, it being a combination of the comic and both the movies and it just makes this strip stand out all the more and I love it, every single page!


So a great start.  In fact, out of the eight strips here there's only two I wasn't really keen on.  Both Tyranny Rex and the Future Shocks strips were a little too simplistic in both plot and art for me.  2000AD has a reputation of bringing depth, intrigue and shocks to even the shortest of strips but I felt these were lacking somewhat.  Their art is also quite fanzine-like and while I appreciate the more simple, indie style in a professional comic is popular at the moment, I'm not a fan but that's just a personal preference of mine.  But as I said above, it's par for the course with anthologies and I'm sure many will love these strips.  For me personally the rest of the comic is nigh on perfect.

One of my favourites is the Rogue Trooper story, written by Alex De Campi (Wonder Woman, Archie vs Predator), with art by Sam Beck (Songs For the Dead, Cadmus and a wealth of self-published comics) and colours by Eva De La Cruz (2000AD and the Megazine).  Now I realise the page above doesn't include the title character himself but I wanted to show how brilliantly this 8-page, one-off strip has great characterisation even though we'll never see these people again.  Eightball in particular, with his cravings for real food is a particular highlight and upon Rogue's arrival on the next page his dream of bacon and eggs could be in sight.  The story revolves around one small mission, something which would be insignificant in the larger war effort, but here it's an ingenious little tale of trust in desperate times.  Engrossing, with artwork that looks almost like it has some form of 'wash' over the top that gives it a lovely retro feel, this is a real highlight.

Speaking of highlights:


As well as 52 high-quality pages you've also got this beautiful free poster from Marguerite Sauvage (Wonder Woman, Secret Wars) in the middle and yes, it's a separate entity to the comic itself so you won't lose any of the strips.  Another fab addition to this great value purchase.

Tharg is the comic's extraterrestrial editor and can usually be seen on the editorial page of the weekly 2000AD proclaiming how thrilling the edition in the reader's hands is.  He also pops up to introduce some of the one-off tales and here he does again for the Terror Tale, The Hockey Sticks of Hell.  At only four pages in length Olivia Hicks' (this is her first major published tale though she has edited a Commando story and worked on small press titles) script involves a school hockey team who, seemingly perfect and stereotypical old-school comic kids on the outside, are desperate for a win and turn to some rather dodgy means on increasing their chances.  I don't want to ruin anything but just remember this is 2000AD.  What seems like a rather good, if typical story, has an ending which ties the whole four pages together in an unexpected and very funny way, and it's clear it was deliberately written to feel 'typical' so the twist is unseen, so kudos to Olivia.


The art from Abigail Bulmer (2000AD colourist, this is her first published illustration work for the Prog) is a delight.  Just one look at that picture of Tharg and regular readers of the comic should be able to conclude the style of the whole strip is going to be one of great fun.  Abigail lures the reader into an idyllic comic world which soon descends into madness, evil and gore.  It's highly original for this comic and especially for a Terror Tale.  Again, just like the Dredd strip it almost feels like the art style is a deliberate dig at those who complained about the comic when it was first announced.  It's all very 1980s-girl's-comic but then flips into something unique and very bold.  You can see this before the end of the first page, which is why I only included a fraction, as the surprise is part of the fun!

Judge Death is always a great addition to any Dredd story, though I'm usually a bit weary of any short stories with him because it means he'll usually get defeated quite quickly and, like the Daleks, the more often he's defeated the less threatening he is when he returns.  Now he doesn't always lose, I should make that clear and I won't say if he does here or not, but even though it's only five pages in length, Darkness Descends brings a real sense of danger and death to the comic and it's simply wonderful.


Writer Leah Moore (Red Sonja, The Trial of Sherlock Holmes) neatly ties in this new story with the 1991 graphic novel, Judgement on Gotham which saw Judge Dredd and Batman team up to defeat Death.  During that story the Judge from another twisted dimension slaughtered a rock band but unknown to anyone was the fact a recording had been made of that last performance.  That recording now pops up in Mega-City One and is discovered by an all-female punk band who decide to cover the song, each performance becoming heavier and heavier.  I wonder why.  Apart from an unnaturally calm band manager facing off against Death at one point, this five-page tale is a neat little story, with art that jumps off the page and smacks you in the face.  Plus, the lyrics are taken from an actual heavy metal song by a local band to the writer, which is a nice touch and you can find out more on the aforementioned podcast.

Artist Xulia Vicente's (artist on several Spanish comics including Ari and Anna D├ędalus) style is the perfect match for Leah's script, bringing high energy to every panel, distinct characters and as it progresses a macabre sense of foreboding.  Colours are supplied by Pippa Mather (2000AD, Dynamite Comics) and what can I say?  They're beautiful.  The page above can sum it up, with Pippa able to bring a lot of bright colours to the page while somehow matching the darker, heavier tone of Xulia's art.  Normally we'd see a subdued palette for a story such as this, but here it shows that doesn't have to be the case, we can have bright, vibrant and engaging colours working to convey a darker tone.  Genius, and I look forward to seeing much more of both Pippa's and Xulia's work, especially if they get the chance to work together again!

On a personal note, I was ecstatic to see a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild piece on Xulia's online portfolio!


While I haven't included a sample here, there's also a Demarco, P.I. strip from writer Laura Bailey and artist Dani which is an entertaining read, even if it does have a somewhat unoriginal ending.  But that doesn't take away from the quality of the writing and the artwork which together feel very authentic 1970s/1980s 2000AD.  Finally, alongside the poster Judge Anderson gets her own strip and it's a story which I just wish could've been longer.  Maura McHugh's (Witchfinder, The Nail) story deals with dark demons and friendly angels from Anderson's past, her relationship with a blind fellow Psi-Judge and a painful treatment they all have to be subjected to.  There's a lot of potential here and it feels like it could've been a big, multipart story.  It's large, personal themes here seem somewhat small and too easily handled because of the amount of pages afforded to it.

But what is here is entertaining and I'm not criticising Maura's work, just that I wish there could've been more of it.  Emma Vieceli's (Manga Shakespeare, Back to the Future) art is crisp, everything is beautifully defined and she brings a huge, epic feel to the short six-pager.  Barbara Nosenzo's (Summer Magic: the Complete Journal of Luke KirbyThe Ballad of Halo Jones Recoloured) colours are lovely and bright, detailed and give a gorgeous finish to the work and to the comic itself, which is all lettered by Annie Parkhouse and Ellie De Ville too.  A lovely package indeed to round off the special.


So yes, this is a comic you should buy for two very, very good reasons.  The first is to support this brilliant venture and the work of all of these incredibly talented individuals, to show we want to see more from them and from other female comics creators.  The second reason is simply because for £4.99 it's a bargain for a top quality read!  Simple as that really.  After the disappointment of the Scream and Misty special this is a welcome return to form for Rebellion and I'd heartily recommend any fan of fun, thrilling, surprising comics to give it a whirl.  The creative team behind it have brought a freshness to the whole thing.  It feels like something brand new and exciting, there's a real zing to the storytelling, a joy to every panel and it all comes together with an overriding feeling of the love and passion they all had towards creating an all-female edition of The Galaxy's Greatest Comic.

The 2000AD Sci Fi Special 2018 is available from comic shops, newsagents, supermarkets etc. as per the weekly, or you can buy it direct from the 2000AD shop where there's also an alternative cover and a digital version available too for the lower price of £3.99.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

JURASSIC PARK #1: ADAPTING THE ADAPTATION



As I've said before, back in 1993 I didn't come to this comic until #6 when it suddenly appeared in my local newsagents with the new adventures, so these early issues were brand new to me when I bought them from eBay back in 2015 in order to write my original Beyond Oink! series post.  I read the story in each of those first five issues quickly for that, but this will be the first time reading through them properly and the first time ever I'll have sat down to the whole series.  Then, later in the run, with #6 onwards it'll be the first time I've read those issues since I was aged 15/16, so I'm excited to get stuck right in.  Like I did with Oink! as the whole premise of the blog between 2013 and 2015, then recently with Ring Raiders and Transformers I'll be reading each issue and writing them up on their original release dates.  Today was a Tuesday back in 1993 and the day #1 hit the shelves much to the delight of Jurassic fans everywhere, so Happy 25th Anniversary to Dark Horse International's Jurassic Park UK!

The format for this new title started out with a full chapter of the American Topps Comics movie adaptation and a brief feature on some aspect of the film, wrapped up in a 36-page, A4-sized comic (as wide as Transformers but taller) with a glossy cover and matt pages within, edited together by Dick Hansom.  The internal contents would change as it went on, resembling more the Marvel UK output which had the main strip of the title and one or two "back-ups" from other comics, although usually related by subject in some way.  That's when I came on and fell in love with this comic, but these early issues were cover-to-cover Isla Nublar, this particular chapter taking up a whopping 29 pages inside this premiere issue!


The team assembled to create the actual strip was second-to-none!  As a fan of the franchise I'm actually quite proud of the credits page here (there wasn't an editorial welcoming readers, just this atmospheric image of the park and the strip's credits), though at the time I was unaware of who any of these people were.  Nowadays a little Bing research turned up a wealth of information, though I didn't need to do so for the first name I spotted, that of Story Editor Jim Salicrup.

Writer of some of the early editions of Transformers for Marvel US, Jim's work has featured on the blog already.  He also edited multiple superhero comics for the company before moving to Topps and eventually to Papercutz where he resides now as Editor-in-Chief.  Writer Walter Simonson was tasked with adapting the screenplay and is probably best known for creating Star Slammers (featured in Havoc comic here in the UK), writing/drawing Thor for nearly five years in the 80s, being the artist on Robocop vs Terminator and writing Iron Man 2020, who also crossed over into Machine Man and popped up in Transformers UK.

Penciller Gil Kane sadly passed in 2000 but leaves a wealth of comics excellence.  He worked on everything from Action Comics to Teen Titans, co-created Iron Fist for Marvel and was artist on a landmark series of stories in The Amazing Spider-Man, where both Gwen Stacy and The Green Goblin were killed (unheard of back then) and which also saw the Comics Code authority have to rewrite some of their rules about the depiction of drugs abuse.  Inker George Perez has won several awards for his comics artwork throughout his career, also co-creating the characters White Tiger and Taskmaster for Marvel, he was artist on Crisis of Infinite Earths, The Avengers and Teen Titans amongst many others and writer-artist on the highly regarded Wonder Woman of the late 80s/early 90s.  Finally, colourist Tom Smith has worked for so many comics companies it'd be impossible to fit them all in here; Marvel, DC, IDW, Topps, Top Cow, Malibu, the list goes on and on.  As does his list of credits!  The Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Justice League etc., he's also coloured work for such legendary artists as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

I think we can agree this is top drawer stuff!  Jurassic Park's crack team were ready to bring the movie of the year to comics, but would they do it justice?  Having had previous bad experiences with comicbook adaptations of films I'd loved, I was to be pleasantly surprised upon reading this first issue.


Previous adaptations had issues for me such as leaving whole scenes or moments out because they wouldn't translate well, or just copying word-for-word other scenes but with artwork that failed to convey any of the drama or acting, making them rather dull and pointless.  Thankfully the Jurassic Park team so far seem to be determined not to fall into these traps.  Take the scene above, which in the movie has Alan Grant (Sam Neill) describing the hunting techniques of a velociraptor to a more and more terrified child.  With his raptor claw fossil in hand and using it with slow, deliberate movements, Neill's tone and delivery made this scene foreboding and funny in equal measure.  But how to get that across in a comic?

Knowing the scene wouldn't work as well just being copied verbatim, the team decided to show what the kid could've been imagining at this moment, and it was this that made the cover.  Copying every subtle movement by the character would've proved impossible, as would conveying the exact delivery used in the film.  After all, we all read these in our own ways.  So instead they took the point of the scene - to set up the raptors and their hunting techniques, as well as to tell us about the character of Grant and have a laugh at the expense of the child - and found a way of conveying that in a still image format.  Perfect.

Some people always complain how movies based on books don't have absolutely every single thing from the book.  Well of course they don't, that'd be impossible.  They're adaptations based on a book.  They're two completely different mediums, and just as books based on films add and rearrange scenes and elements, sometimes changing whole sections of the script, they're still just different versions of the same tale, adapted to suit each medium.  Having read the novel, I've always felt Spielberg did the perfect job of translating the story to a movie and, so far, the comics team are nailing translating his version.


Here's another example of what can happen with comics based on films.  Sometimes they include elements which never made it to the screen, because they've had to be based on earlier versions of the script in order to make the release deadline alongside the film.  Above, there's actually two examples on the one page.  The fog that's meant to envelop the island is in the novel but was changed for the film to a bright, crisp tropical weather system with gorgeous blue skies.  Whether this was because it would've been impossible/expensive to produce or Spielberg wanted Isla Nublar to feel more welcoming, giving it a false sense of security, I can't remember from the Making Of book I had as a teen.  But it was dropped from the film anyway and even the comic forgets all about it after this moment.  Maybe they later realised the film wasn't going to include it, but it was too late to go back and change already completed pages?

The other example is Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum's character) going into a little more depth on Chaos Theory with his mention of "non-linear dynamics to the start-up conditions".  The rest of their helicopter chat is here so maybe this was changed in the script or perhaps it was cut from the final film at a later stage.  In the book he goes into a lengthy, fascinating speech about the subject but we'll come back to that in a later chapter, during the well known scene in the Jeep with the droplet of water and the "a butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine" description of Chaos.

The biggest change in chapter one though, can be seen in this next panel below.  If I tell you #1 ends just after the film's scene where the characters see the magnificent brachiosaur for the first time and Hammond has his "Welcome to Jurassic Park" moment, fans should instantly know this photo I took shouldn't be here:


Actually, Hammond has his moment in the comic when they land in the helicopter, then this dramatic moment from the film, complete with "What have you got in there, King Kong?" line, happens as they make their way from the landing pad to the visitor centre.  In the film this didn't happen until after we'd been fed all the science behind the park and they were heading out on the inaugural tour.  The tour some wouldn't return from.  Before anyone gets wound up, this is not the comic team taking liberties with the story, the visitor centre and story background scenes are still to come in #2.  This is simply an iconic image from the film and they decided to move it up to the first issue for that very reason.

Various images of these gates at different angles take up almost five pages.  They're certainly bold and stand out when flicking through.  With the story broken down into four parts (five in the UK comic) rather than one long read, standout moments from the film are needed to grip readers and pull them back for #2.  With part one ending with the group having just arrived and seen their first dinosaur, all the other dinos, story and action are still to come, so it was a smart move to rearrange some scenes from later in the story.

The same goes for Hammond's line.  Even though the movie scene that contains his "Welcome to Jurassic Park" piece ends the issue, it feels like a better fit to have that line at the end of the helicopter ride because of that scene above being brought forward.  This is what I mean by properly adapting a story to suit a new medium.  The movie wasn't told in parts, but here it needs to be.  With some rearranging the comic team have ensured it all continues to flow perfectly while containing the kind of big moments and cliffhangers needed in a comic story.  It makes complete sense as to why things are a little different than what we're used to.

But I will end this section of glowing praise with a change I wish they could've rethought, that being when they mistake the brachiosaur's legs for trees.  In Crichton's original story, after getting off the chopper Grant mistakes a brachiosaur's neck in the distance for a trunk of one of the tall trees in the dense forests, until the dinosaur moves that is.  But here they drive within a few metres of them.  They didn't see the giant belly over their heads?  Well, if this was the original idea for the film I'm glad they got rid of it!


When I collected Jurassic Park it was cover-to-cover strips (and the occasional competition thrown in for good measure), so it was a pleasant surprise to see additional features in these early issues.  They start at the beginning fittingly enough, this month informing the reader about Amblin's producers and Spielberg buying the movie rights to Michael Crichton's novel long before it was complete, why they chose it, their first impressions and what they felt were the scientific and moral highlights, the things they wanted to concentrate on when developing their version.  It makes for a good, if somewhat brief read and there's more to come next time.

Also here is a checklist of the comics to be released by Dark Horse in the UK over the next month and I can remember picking up an issue of their Aliens comic at some stage on a family holiday.  It must've been before Jurassic Park because the left-hand margin on the cover above, with the issue details and the title of the comic, was very familiar when I picked my first issue up, having seen the same thing on Aliens first.  Also included here are all the American comics being imported to the UK in July 1993, with Jurassic Park itself not on the list for obvious reasons.


So there you go, our first look at the UK's version of Jurassic Park, released exactly 25 years ago today.  I really like the idea this series of monthly posts will be marking its anniversary, celebrating a comic which has been largely forgotten in the intervening years.  IDW have released collections of these original Topps strips, but Dark Horse International's publication has disappeared into the mists of time.  I've found one or two blog posts about individual issues having existed and a YouTube video of the covers, but that's it.  Just like Ring Raiders before it (and Wildcat and others to come), The Oink! Blog and Beyond will be the only place online to find a wealth of information on this absolutely classic comic.  I adored this title and I'm sure you'll end up wanting to track them down on eBay and the like, because you're going to love it too.

To finish off with this month, here's the back page advertisement and to be honest, while these would've been aimed at kids younger than myself at the time anyway, I was unaware there even was a toy line like this for the first film.  There's some brilliant Jurassic merchandise adverts in this series and I'll definitely be including some as we go.  I hope you're along for the ride because it's going to be epic!  After all, it has been 65 million years in the making.


Issue two of the UK's Jurassic Park will be roaring its way on to the blog on Sunday 29th July 2018.


Saturday, 23 June 2018

"WELCOME TO JURASSIC PARK"


Back in 1993 something arrived that would forever change cinema.  The first movie to really go for it with CGI, to use it for the main events of the film, it'd never been utilised on this scale before and it led the way in both visuals and sound and I've electric memories of seeing (and hearing!) it on the big screen.  A long-time fan already of Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park was unlike anything even that master of the silver screen had created before.  I immediately left the cinema and bought Michael Crichton's novel and devoured it that summer!  I'd never been fascinated with dinosaurs or anything like that, but this story, its premise and these characters had entranced me.  I've particularly fond memories of receiving the VHS for Christmas in this rather fantastic special edition box:

Image from Pinterest

But between seeing the film for that first time and those countless times later on video, John Hammond's biological preserve off the coast of Costa Rica did something else I'd otherwise thought was impossible back then; it brought me back to the world of comics.  After starting my comics reading with Oink! in 1986 I'd had several years of fun with the medium before I made my way to the world of magazines with the likes of Commodore Format for my new obsession, my Commodore 64 home computer.  After the cancellation of Marvel UK's Transformers and feeling I'd outgrown all my other comics, 1992 saw me move on permanently.  Comics just didn't do it for me anymore.  At least, that's what I thought until I spotted something in late 1993.

A few months earlier I'd seen an issue of a Jurassic Park comic in a newsagents somewhere and noticed it was an adaptation of the film.  I'd been disappointed with previous comics adaptations of movies I'd read so I decided not to bother and that had been that.  But, when visiting my local shop to pick up my latest computer games magazine in November of that year this bold logo really stood out and I spotted the banner along the top!  New adventures?  Oh?  What was this?  I picked it up from behind the other comics and was greeted with this fantastic cover:


One look inside and not only did the fact this was the official continuation of the movie's story excite me, but it also contained other non-Jurassic Park strips, albeit ones closely tied in with the subject at hand.  This format reminded me of Transformers, a comic I'd simply adored, so to have this applied to a new title based on my new favourite thing was just too good to pass up!  I didn't regret it.

So here we are twenty-five years later and a few days after seeing the fifth fantastic film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the cinema I can finally reveal the next comic to get The Oink! Blog and Beyond treatment.  As regular readers will know, this means I'll be covering every issue of the UK version of Jurassic Park on their original release dates.  Each post will contain some highlights and a detailed write-up as I read through these all for the first time in many years, including story details, personal insights and memories of the time when these were brand new.

I've particularly fond memories of this comic and it's one of my very favourite from my youth.  It was the quintessential British version of an American comic, taking the American strips (from Topps) and adding in extra stories and features for us lucky UK readers.  After all this time will I still be a fan of Jurassic Park and its world?  Well here's a clue:


I'm hugely excited to get stuck into this classic series from Dark Horse International again, especially to mark its own 25th anniversary, which works out nicely.  So join me tomorrow when we reenter the park right after the very first movie and then every month from then on, as we follow a top comic that proved itself a top flight continuation of a great story, only for it to eventually be cut short when the company behind it vanished here in the UK.  But even then the blog series will continue 'beyond' that final issue next year.  What do I mean?  You'll have to wait and see, after all the whole point of this blog is to relive each 'new' issue as they're 'released'.

For now though, there's only one more thing to say, isn't that right Sir Richard Attenborough?:


Jurassic Park UK #1 comes to the blog tomorrow, Sunday 24th June 2018.


Thursday, 21 June 2018

FROM IRON MAN TO BIG EGGO: 35 YEARS OF LEW


What do these three seemingly unrelated 80s comics have in common?  Apart from being three of my own personal favourites, they include the work of a certain Lew Stringer.  Anyone who grew up with comics in the 80s will tell you the man was everywhere!  He was certainly a constant in my own comics.

Oink! was my own first comic title and through it I got to know Lew's classic Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug, obviously, but when The Real Ghostbusters came along I felt it was given an air of legitimacy by having Lew's take on Slimer in those early issues after seeing his Robo Capers and Combat Colin in the pages of their Transformers comics.  Of course I'd soon add that comic to my growing list too!

Well, Lew is celebrating this week as it marks the 35th anniversary of his first professionally published work in the pages of Daredevil comic in June 1983.  Below is just a snippet of that first piece, the full image you can see by clicking on it and going to Lew's own personal blog, where he reminisces about his career to date and that first, fateful published work:

Click to be whisked to the full image on Lew's blog

One of the greatest things about doing this blog has been getting the chance to chat to and get to know those whose work I not only grew up with and which formed an important part of my life, but who I greatly respect.  Through this I've been able to make some true friends and I'm so pleased to be able to count Lew among them, finally getting the chance to meet him in person at last year's Enniskillen Comic Fest.

Working away in the likes of Beano (where he's resurrected the very first Beano character, Big Eggo), Doctor Who Magazine, Toxic and the just-about-to-lauch Goof!, Lew is still leading the way in British humour comics and any fans really should make sure they check out both his Lew Stringer Comics blog for insights into his work past and present, and his Blimey! blog for entertaining and informative posts about the UK comics scene from all eras.

To finish off for now, here's all five Oink! covers Lew drew for our favourite comic, the first being his first for any title!  Happy anniversary Lew and here's to many more years of the Lewniverse to come!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

PSYCHO GRAN RETURNS: BRAND NEW COMIC


She's back!  So it appears I was wrong when I said the original Psycho Gran Vs was a one-off when I wrote about it back in February 2016.  Oink! cartoonist extraordinaire David Leach has announced a second issue, called Psycho Gran Versus: Volume II is almost finished, with a hopeful release date to coincide with this year's London Film and Comic Con taking place between the 27th and the 29th July.

Just like the first issue, this is a collection of beautifully detailed, full-colour spreads of Psycho Gran meeting famous fictional figures from various entertainment worlds, always in her own inimitable style.  For example David has been sharing some images on his Twitter feed which have included the old dear alongside Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Luke Skywalker, even Charlie Brown and there's her own take on Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct.  More guest artists have also been lined up, this time including Doug Braithwaite, Alex Saviuk, Tom Mandrake, Paul McCaffrey, Chris Browne and others.


So make sure you follow David on Twitter to check out the latest teases of this comic before its official launch.  At the comic con he'll also be selling copies of his The Dinner Ladies from Hell graphic novel, a strip from the ill-fated Toxic comic (not the one that's still on sale now) from 1991.  I haven't read this particular strip myself but according to Wikipedia, it's "The Omen and To the Devil a Daughter crossed with Ripping Yarns.  In a nutshell, the wives of the Four Riders of the Apocalypse have six days, six hours and six minutes to corrupt seven children with the deadly sins and only one man and God's cookbook stand in their way."

Sounds very David!

In the meantime you can catch up on the previous comics from Psycho Gran by going to the New Material section of the blog where there's write-ups on the previous Versus title, as well as #1 and #2 of her comic strip title and a look at her appearances in Aces Weekly.

MEET THE BLOG STARS

As for that little convention thingie in London, if you can get there you'll be at a loss for who to visit for a signing or drawing first!  For readers of this blog, some guests who may be of particular interest alongside David are Lew Stringer and John McCrea (who guest-starred in #64 of Oink!).  For anyone following my Transformers Instagram series there's writer Simon Furman and artists Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Stephen Baskerville (who was also an artist on The Real Ghostbusters) and Lee Sullivan.  Beano legend Nigel Parkinson will be there alongside one of my favourite artists of the current comic, Ruby's Screwtop Science's Cowgirl Em.  The hilarious Ian Richardson who I met at last year's Enniskillen Comic Fest will also be in attendance, as will Aces Weekly editor David Lloyd.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

DAVEY JONES ON LEO BAXENDALE: LISTEN NOW!


Ah, the unmistakable style of Dave Jones and the brilliant The Kingdom of Trump from the pages of Oink!, this particular strip being a classic and a favourite of mine.  A regular contributor to Viz, Davey was recently a guest on the Rule of Three podcast, the description of which reads as follows:

"Comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris talk to people who make comedy about something funny that they love.  Guests pick a TV show, a film, a book, an album or a comic that means something to them.  Maybe we find out something about how comedy works.  Maybe there's just a lot of giggling."


Sounds good to me!  So what was Davey invited on to talk about?  That would be the work of legendary comics artist Leo Baxendale.  Thanks to David Leach for letting me know this existed!  It's a great listen, an hour of Davey and the presenters reminiscing about the strips of Leo's, his style, working methods and his completely insane sense of humour.  You may have doubts about how well an interview about a visual medium (and indeed a very visual comedic artist) could work, but trust me it really does.  While it does discuss various comics he worked on, the podcast focusses mainly on The Beano and Leo's own Willy the Kid books, which I must try to track down based on the details the team chat about here.

Leo Baxendale's Nellyphant from an issue of Funny Fortnightly

There's some chat about Davey's own career including Viz and Oink! too, making this an unmissable slice of comics talk which is available for free right now on Apple podcasts.  The reasons and working methods behind the creation of his Vibrating Butt-Faced Goats is worth the download on its own.

But obviously the main event is Leo's work and they do a brilliant job of really firing your imagination and any old grey memory cells you may have left and you're soon picturing his detail-laden panels.  The imagery they've painted in my mind for Willy the Kid has me excited about the possibility of reading them one day, I'm sure the same will happen for you too.  This is all interspersed with some snippets of Leo himself being interviewed during his heyday which are the icing of the cake, so go get this downloaded now for your next bus journey/car journey/bath right now!

To finish off, here's one more strip from the mind of Davey and the pages of Oink! and it's a corker!  If you haven't read it before you're in for a real treat with the Monty Python-esque Phantom Moose-Napper:

Sunday, 10 June 2018

JAMES NICHOLAS INTERVIEW: WRITING RING RAIDERS


Ah, welcome back to the world of the time travelling Ring Raiders, featuring the very best pilots and aircraft from every era of aerial combat, where The Command Was In Their Hands!  I adored these toys and was ecstatic when their very own comic appeared from Fleetway in September 1989.  It was criminally short-lived, but even today stands as testament to the very best in British comics from the time.  Superb storytelling was at the centre of this epic comic.

With its huge ensemble cast, near limitless possibilities and turning small plastic 'planes on rings into fully rounded, three-dimensional characters in compelling stories it was not a small task and editor Barrie Tomlinson assembled the very best!  This included James Nicholas, pen name for James Tomlinson, acclaimed writer for EagleBattle and Scream!, as well as the man behind one of my favourite stories from this favourite comic of mine, and son of the aforementioned editor.


A huge "aviation nut" according to Barrie, this seemed like the perfect comic for James to work on, surely!

"With the aviation connection, Ring Raiders really did stand out for me amongst so many here today, gone tomorrow, titles," begins James.  "Thanks for the questions, an interesting selection!  I'm glad to try and answer them, it does bring back some great memories of marvellous times long ago.  So good to hear that Ring Raiders was, and still is, appreciated so much by those that read, and continue to read, the title.  It makes us writers (and artists I am sure) so nostalgic and proud.  It was indeed so sad (I'd use the word tragedy, but that may be a bit too far!) Ring Raiders lasted only a handful of issues, it deserved a longer print run for sure.  Many others clearly think the same!"

They did indeed James, they did indeed!


James very graciously, not to mention rather excitedly, agreed to answer some questions about this brilliant comic which unfortunately launched at a time when comic sales across the board were in decline and it seemed nearly every one I started to collect didn't last long.  The fact it remains as my favourite (other than Oink!, obviously!) comic all these years later is testament to its quality.  That's not a case of rose-tinted glasses either, as you can read in the series of posts I wrote last year covering every single issue, with the second half of the Special still to come as of the time of writing.

A top comics writer, a favourite childhood toy, an ace comic based upon it with a huge fan of all things aviation at the helm of some of those action-packed stories.  I was looking forward to this interview and James was not to disappoint!  So let's begin.

- - -

The Oink! Blog and Beyond: It was great to hear you're still an aviation nut and have fond memories of your time working on Ring Raiders.  Are there any particular ones which stand out for you today?

James: Yes, indeed I'm still very much an aviation nut after all these years!  Rather than just one story, I think it was the whole concept that really stood out for me.  Pilots and aircraft from different eras locked in mortal combat in contrasting time zones all over the globe.  It really had the makings of a long-running and thrilling sky-based adventure which seemed to be just what the kids back then would have loved.  Well, that's what I think anyway!

TOBaB: What was the process like when a new licence came through, to get up to speed on everything you'd need to know about something like Ring Raiders?  I imagine it wouldn't have been a very long timeframe before having to start producing stories?

James: With these sorts of stories, based on toy products, there's really no definite answer to this one.  It varied so much.  Sometimes we were given a lot of information about the characters and storylines, other times there was much less for us to go on.  Of course, in the latter scenario, this could be a good thing as it allowed writers to use their own imagination more and pad out things with their own ideas.  Again, the amount of time we got to read up and prepare for something new like Ring Raiders varied hugely.  Often there had to be a very quick turnaround with the stories, on other occasions we had months to get things just right.


TOBaB: You very kindly sent me a Ring Raiders folder from the licence holders you used at the time (coming soon blog readers) and as far as the characters themselves it's very scant on details for each, basically consisting of the information from the toy packaging.  Did you get any more to go on, or was it up to you as a writer to embellish them as you saw fit?

James: From what I recall, there was indeed not a great deal to go on with the characters from Ring Raiders, so it was a case of each individual writer embellishing the characters.  Obviously, if the licence holders didn't like what the writer had done with the characters they could object and ask for changes, which did happen on a fairly regular basis (although not so much, thankfully, with Ring Raiders).


TOBaB: Ring Raiders was like an anthology comic in many ways.  Who came up with the story ideas and chose the characters you'd focus on in each one?  The reason I ask is because your first story, 'Bomber Blues' is set in World War II in the same year as the the main hero of this tale, 'Raider pilot Cub Jones had originally been beamed away from to join the air force of the future.  It's also chock full of B-17 Fortress Bombers fighting modern day jets and classic prop planes.  It just seems the perfect choice for a writer fascinated with aircraft.  Was this your doing?

James: I think most of the basic story ideas came from the writers themselves, apart from those that, say, focussed on the early life stories of the individual heroes and villains.  Those were probably more down to Editorial decisions.  Bomber Blues was very much my sort of story, with all my kind of ingredients.  I'd always been a fan of stories about the Flying Fortress of WW2.  This big 'plane with a big crew and a ton of guns really caught my imagination.  Searching my dusty old memory banks, I seem to recall there was a serial story in Battle about an American Flying Fortress squadron flying out of wartime England which I always enjoyed.  To have a Flying Fortress going up against jet fighters from the future was just perfect in my eyes.  I'm sure I had a lot of input into this story choice!


TOBaB: Both of your published stories were beautifully illustrated by Don Wazejewski, how did that come about?  Did you write your stories and they were assigned to Don or did you work together more closely to produce the final product?

James: It was just luck that a great artist like Don Wazejewski was chosen to illustrate Bomber Blues.  Certainly, in my time writing I never worked closely with the artist who would eventually illustrate my work.  We always worked very much apart.  Many lucky artists lived abroad in the sun anyway and it wasn't so easy to keep in touch as it is today; no internet, emails or social media back then!  I always thought the many different artists who converted my (sometimes difficult!) ideas to a finished visual work did a superb job.  I wish I could have produced work half as good as they did.  Unfortunately I've never had any drawing talent at all (always a bit of a drawback if you want to become an artist!).  Artists like Joe Colquhoun, John Cooper and Sandy James were at the top of their game (the latter two also produced some stunning work for Ring Raiders - Phil).  I take my hat off to their much missed talents!

TOBaB: You second (and unfortunately final) published tale, 'Castle of Doom' involves more time travel into the past and a plot by Skull Squadron to undermine the then-future formation of their arch enemies.  It seemed to be setting up a larger scale story in the background, like it was part of a long-term plan.  Was this the idea behind it, as something you could return to at a later date?  Or am I reading too much into it?

James: Once again, Castle of Doom was just my cup of tea when it comes to a story.  Travelling back in time to change what will happen in the future has always intrigued and interested me.  Maybe because I watched a lot of Doctor Who and The Time Tunnel when I was a youngster!  I really don't recall if there was any plan to make this story part of a long-running adventure (like my story Operation Deep Cover which I wrote for Battle Action Force) but it's an interesting idea.  Perhaps you should have been on the Editorial team and suggested it, Phil!

TOBaB: Oh if only!  Once the 'Raiders perfect time travel I'll see you then!



TOBaB: In that story the main characters are the Ring Raiders' Yakamura (in the X-29 fighter) and the Skull Squadron's ghoulish Wraither (in the P-51 Mustang).  These two characters' craft were in a two-plane 'Starter Pack' which was how I started collecting the toys as a young child.  Is this a coincidence or was it set up by Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox that these two were personal enemies?  There's nothing in the licence folder to indicate it, but as a child it was a thrill to read your story as these were my favourite planes.

James: I'm almost certain that the Yakamura X-29/Wraither P-51 Mustang were deliberately chosen to go up against each other in this story given they could be bought together in a Starter Pack.  The idea was probably to encourage youngsters (such as yourself!) to go and buy the X-29/P-51 combo (then available in all good toy shops) and re-enact the dogfights from Castle of Doom.  Whether this decision was down to Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox/someone in Editorial or even the humble writer is lost long ago somewhere in the clouds!


TOBaB: That's amazing!  The fan in me just grinned from ear-to-ear at that!  For UK fans you all really were responsible for developing the characters beyond the toys.  Did the licence holders ever ask for any alterations at the approval stage which personally affected your work?  I know Barrie has already told me the people behind Ring Raiders were a lot more understanding than most.

James: I'm glad the then young UK fans appreciated our efforts to flesh out the characters from what was perhaps a not-so-detailed starting point.  Licence holders could often be very fussy about things and ask/demand/insist that changes were made.  Usually this was at the script stage although, when deadlines were tight, sometimes the artwork had already been completed.  I'm thinking of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles comic here rather than Ring Raiders.  Last minute changes to the actual artwork were usually impossible, given that many artists lived on distant shores and there was just no scope to alter things late in the day.  We'd usually say we'd take on board their comments and make sure we did things properly next time!


TOBaB: Barrie also told me you were responsible for the Photo File series, which unfortunately only started in the final issue and the Special.  The comic really seemed to get a new found confidence with that sixth issue so I was gutted it was the last one, I was looking forward to seeing how it would develop further.  Can you remember any plans you or the team had for stories or the physical comic itself beyond these early issues?

James: Yes, I was behind the Photo File series, I'd produced similar types of aircraft fact files for other titles in the past.  Again, this was right up my street as I obviously had more than a little(!) interest in the subject matter.  I was disappointed only a couple of these were completed, the P-51 Mustang and the F-104 Starfighter, the latter for the Special.  The Starfighter was another of my all-time faves, a really special 'plane which had the nickname 'The Rocket With A Man In It'!  I do agree that Ring Raiders was getting better all the time and the sudden end of the title was a real shock to us all.  What the long-term future held for the title is difficult to say with any certainty.  I would have hoped it would have gone from strength to strength as we got more used to the characters and expected storylines.  There was just so much scope with all that dogfighting action through the centuries!


TOBaB: Finally, Barrie gave me some details of unpublished stories which were being worked on when the comic was cancelled.  There was apparently a Christmas story and another called 'Blow Bubbles' which were written by yourself.  Can you remember anything about them?

James: There were at least three of my stories for planned future issues which were sadly unpublished.  Apart from Blow Bubbles and the untitled Christmas story, there was also a story called Hijacked.  Unfortunately, I don't recall anything about any of them!  I'm not even sure what stage the stories had reached, whether I'd finished or even started writing one, two or all three.  I'm afraid the three tales have disappeared into 'The Bermuda Triangle' of unpublished writing!

- - -

Thank you so much James for this brilliant interview and your detailed, enthusiastic answers!  It's been great to bring this comic back to life through the blog and to give it the appreciation it so clearly deserves.  If it had continued I've every faith it would've evolved into a title to rival any licenced fare in the UK, including even Marvel's Transformers.  With a toy line which proved very popular here but unfortunately less so in its home country of the US, and the aforementioned problems with comics sales in general in the UK, in a market which seemed to be getting saturated with new licenced comics, it was sadly not to be.

But I'm here to celebrate this comic, not mourn it.  I hope I've been able to do justice to it and its amazing creative team assembled by Barrie and there's a lot more to come folks!  So if you grew up with the toy line, loved the comic as I did, or are simply curious to find out more about this oft-forgotten gem, stayed tuned.  In the meantime I'll leave the last word for James:

"It's been a pleasure spending time revisiting the history of Ring Raiders.  Those were great days!"