Favourite Things in 2016

Following the deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Darwyn Cooke, Steve Dillon, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Victoria Wood and many more people, it's been a difficult year for pop culture. So it's good to once again focus on some of the positives from the past twelve months. As in other years these aren't what I'm saying are the best things, merely my favourites from the past twelve months.  You can see the 2015 list here.  

TV Drama – Stranger Things

For the second year running the show I liked the most was a Netflix original. This 8-part series completely came out of the blue for me, I hadn't heard of it until friends started posting about it on social media. I managed to watch it before it went on the typical arc of being over-hyped and then derided for being too nostalgic within a matter of days. Being set in 1983 certainly helped get me interested and everything from the music to the titles lifted the whole show. It was fresh and different and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end, I loved the young cast and I can't wait to see what  the Duffer Brothers do in Season Two. 

Honourable mentions –  Westworld came very close to taking top spot and in many ways was the most well constructed show I saw this year. Technically it was the show I appreciated the most and it lead us all on a merry dance, but having taken half the season to emotionally engage with the characters that meant it wasn't quite the show for me. The best of this year's returning shows included Better Call Saul, which maintained its high bar, Game of Thrones which was the best season in years particularly the later episodes, Daredevil, which wasn't quite as good as season one and Jack Irish, which successfully spun the TV movie series into a season long show. Perhaps if I had found time for Luke Cage, that too would have made this list too. 

Film – Creed

Kids films apart, I've spent very little time at the cinema this year so I had relatively slim pickings to choose from. Having said that, I love boxing movies and the Rocky franchise in particular, and was pleased when this finally got a UK release, many months after the US. I wasn't sure about the idea of continuing the story with Apollo Creed's son as the focal point, but it was an excellent decision. Much like the first two Rocky films, this had a big heart and was handled with a deft touch. The fight scenes were breathtaking and Stallone really should have picked up an Oscar for his portayal of the former boxer turned mentor. 

Honourable mentions – Captain America: Civil War was the film I would have day dreamed about as a ten year old, although far from perfect balancing so many Marvel characters in one film was no mean feat. And they brought Spider-Man into the MCU finally and actually made it work too. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than I anticipated and felt and looked like it belonged with the original trilogy, it also had some of the best casting of the year with some top notch talent in front of the camera. Deadpool was another film which surpassed my expectations, far funnier than anticipated and really well put together. Zooptropolis (or Zootopia if you're in the US), was excellent, and much like Paddington, managed to highlight the social injustices in the world within a family movie without it overshadowing the story. Looking back, maybe in 2017 I need to make a point of seeing more original films on the big screen, as well as franchise films and reboots, I'm kicking myself for not seeing The Nice Guys, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water and 10 Cloverfield Lane amongst others.  

Album – Folklore by Big Big Train/Sorceress by Opeth (tied) . 

It was very, very close this year. And I drafted this post a few times with either album in top spot as I don't usually allow myself such indecision. When it came down to it, both albums had the same affect on me, both made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and gave me goosebumps on multiple listens.  I'm emotionally invested in Folklore, having been an extra in the title track's video and attended the album launch listening party at Real World Studios, so that album had a very high chance of being the one I liked most. Just like their previous work, and the other two non studio albums they put out in 2016, it connected with my emotional and thoughful side. With Opeth it was something different, building on what they'd done before on Pale Communication, this album hit all the different things I look for in music and the perfect balance of light and shade, within one small collection of songs. 

Honourable mentions –

F*** Everyone And Run by Marillion was very, very close to making it a three way tie. In many ways it's the most 2016 album of all, as the lyrics resonate very strongly. They planned to make an important album and succeeded, possibly creating the defining work of their career. Iy just didnt quite have the same impact on me as BBT and Opeth.

Other long players of note came from Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, featuring members of Alice in Chains, Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan, Iggy Pop, who has found the perfect collaborator in Josh Homme,  The Mute Gods, Nick Beggs' Porcupine Tree with a pop slant style project, Radiohead, who returned to form again,  ex Beardfish and current BBT man, Rikard Sjoblom, BBT drummer Nick D'Virgillio's new power trio The Fringe, and English art rockers Moulettes

Song -  The New Kings by Marillion.

The radio edit of The New Kings was the first Marillion song I'd heard since the days of Fish and the band playing Kayleigh and Incommunicado on Top of the Pops. I then listened to the five piece full prog suite in all its glory (which everyone should do) and was completely blown away. Lyrically it speaks to these difficult times (we have the keys to Russia's locked doors) and musically it transcends genre and delivers on all levels. Superb stuff. 

This title is adopted not in anger or with any intention to shock. It is adopted and sung (in the song “New Kings”) tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. I won’t bore you with examples, they’re all over the newspapers every day. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that my FEAR of what “seems” to be approaching is just that, and not FEAR of what “is” actually about to happen.
— Steve Hogarth (Marillion)

Honourable mentions –

Familiar by Agnes Obel was my song of choice until I heard The New Kings, it's a song I discovered listening to Bob Harris on Radio 2, while waiting for him to play Big Big Train. It's hauntingly evocative and sounds different on every listen, I was surprised when it started to be used as Match of the Day incidental music. 

 

Realm of You and Me by Rikard Sjoblom is a singalong classic from the former Beardfish frontman and one of the songs from 2016 that put a big smile on my face whenever I heard it.  As their albums were so impressive, of course Sorceress, Will O the Wisp and The WIlde Flowers by Opeth and Folklore and Telling the Bees by Big Big Train have a place on this list. Daydreaming by Radiohead is beautifully restrained, as is Tears for the West by Levee Walkers feat Jaz Coleman (Mike McCready, Duff McKagan and Barrett Martin supergroup goodness with the Killing Joke frontman) and Metallica's Moth to a Flame helped blow off the cobwebs. The Mute Gods singles Feed the Troll, Father Daughter and Do nothing till you hear from me all deserve high praise too. 

Gig– Rikard Sjoblom, The Victoria (Swindon) 

This was another very difficult one and I almost made it a tie too, but in the end this show just shaded its nearest rival. In a small pub venue in Swindon I was treated to an excellent evening of music, starting with support act George Wilding. 

What followed was a perfect set from the Swedish multi-instrumentalist which made me wish I'd seen Beardfish live before they split up. Singing along to Realm of You and Me was one particular highlight, but the evening just kept getting better. Fellow BBT members Rachel Hall and David Longdon joined him on a couple of numbers and the night was rounded off by most of Big Big Train performing Uncle Jack and Wassail. I get goosebumps just thinking about it and it cost the princely sum of £5! 

Honourable mentions –

Tin Spirits (The Road to Tokyo) at Riffs Bar near Swindon was within a whisker of being my pick. Another band with a Big Big Train connection as legendary former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory is in both bands. I love both their albums and really came to appreciate their musicianship even more by seeing them perform live, especially in the front row in such a small vene. They also treated us to a raft of XTC songs too and you can see and hear some of their version of Senses Working Overtime from the show  here.  And once again this was a gig that set me back a fiver! 

Ben Folds at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff was a gig I wasn't expecting to go to and it was thanks to friend and fellow writer Chris Lynch having a spare ticket that I got to go.  Support act Lera Lynn, as seen and heard in True Detective, was excellent and there was a real party atmosphere when Folds himself came on. 

Chris Cornell at Colston Hall in Bristol with my regular gig buddies, which includes another writer Rob Williams (Suicide Squad, Unfollow) was very good too. Hearing Hunger Strike, Fell on Black Days, Rusty Cage and Black Hole Sun live was worth the admission fee alone. I would like to have heard more songs from Euphoria Morning and a few less covers, more than anything else it made me wish I'd seen Soundgarden live. 

Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics) 

 

 

Three years in a row and the only book I'm picking up in single issues now. Having said that even considering how much I enjoy the titles I read in trades, there is a reason why I pick this up monthly, it really is a must read. As the world gets stranger and darker and oligarchical this book carries even more weight and value.   

Podcast – Unjustly Maligned.

Over the years I've enjoyed Antony Johnston's writing, his convention DJing and his public speaking and I can now add his podcasting to that list of things. In this show he interviews someone who has chosen to defend a film, book, comic, TV show etc that they feel doesn't get fairly treated. It's made me want to watch General Hospital, re-watch Clue and had me listening to Tin Machine again, but it didn't quite convince me to re-evaluate cricket. 

Honourable mentions –

The Prog Report, features excellent interviews with musicians from what has become my favourite genre, iFanBoy continues to be consistent and the return of Talksplode has made it even better, The British History Podcast which I started listening to for research is extremely entertaining, my stable mates Geek Syndicate and Grouchy Old Geeks are always good value and the same can always be said about World Balloon and Comics Experience too. 

Thanks goodness for so much pop culture goodness to distract us all from the news.  When I wasn't keeping up with the latest releases I was busy watching Luther and Community, reading The Book of Genesis and 100 Bullets, listening to Bloodmage and Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet and lots of comic book collections from the library.

 

Read Back to Work for free

I've wanted to write something for Outre for some time, but sod's law always prevailed and I tended to find out about the latest issue just after the submission process had completed. 

The Outré anthology is the brainchild of Norwegian comic book creators Magnus Aspli and Glenn Møane. Both fans of short stories, we started toying with the idea of launching an online anthology with a strong emphasis on quality and meaning.

With Outré we aim to deliver a thoughtful and unique product with superb quality in art and storytelling. To feature stories by hungry creators who have something to say.

Thankfully, I heard that Magnus and Glenn were looking for submissions for their 6th collection, Grotesk early enough to be able to submit an idea. An email from Magnus got the ball rolling and it was great to have a theme to build an idea from. I was looking forward to writing a short story again and to delving into the world of horror once more. 

The work begins for Outré #6. This time we’ve got one goal in mind: create the most unsettling and unnerving little anthology possible.

Our theme is along the lines of “uncannily weird” or “weirdly uncanny” - whatever fills your cup. Outside-the-box horror. Fresh, untouched territory, no classic monsters or tropes.

I had an outline for a story called 'Back to Work' completed relatively quickly, which was approved with a few tweaks and amendments. From there I pulled the script together, which then went through the editorial process before being accepted to appear in the anthology. 

I turned to the Comics Experience workshop to find an artist, initially collaborating with Federico De Luca (John Carpenter's Tales for a HalloweeNight) who has a realistic style and a real talent for the genre.  When Federico got too busy to complete the story, he's since been working on Creepy for Dark Horse, I returned to the CE workshop looking for a replacement.  This is Federico's take on Page One of 'Back to Work'. 

I was very happy to hook up with Gustavo Vasques, another artist on the CE workshop. He'd posted some of his work in June this year that I really liked and I'd been quick to suggest a potential future collaboration. So when Federico had to step off the project, Gustavo was the perfect replacement. Working with Gustavo has been brilliant, I've never had an artist deliver multiple layout options before (I plan to post those in the coming weeks, once the story has had the chance to do the rounds) and that really got me thinking about story flow and page composition. 'Back to Work' was a true collaboration in every sense and I'm really pleased with how it turned out. Here is Gustavo's take on Page One, before a slight change in colouring direction was decided upon. 

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As often happens, I tighten up the dialogue on receipt of the art and then things were passed over to Mick Shubert the excellent letterer that Magnus, who edited the story, assigned to us. 

You can read 'Back to Work' here and you can download all of Outre 6 as a PDF here and it will soon  available on Comixology

Writing is rewriting

Working on the first draft of the script for Chalk Issue 1 was probably the most enjoyable writing experience I've ever had. I wrote it without a plan, with only a loose concept and some visual ideas written down, then pieced it together scene by scene. I was writing in a vacuum, with no expectations and by liberating my thought process it rekindled the feeling I used to get writing as a child. For years from a very young age I'd think of an idea for a prose story, write it quickly and then move on to something else. One of these days I'll write a blog about Summer holidays spent writing short stories about monsters at the request of my mother's employer, literally the local Lady of the manor. 

Despite having such a good time, writing without a plan for and with zero stress, I knew deep down that I'd need to put a lot of work in to make the script publishable. Having plotted out the full five issue mini-series, I've been reshaping the script so that it works for the overall story and the characters that I'm building.

 

 

I'm currently working on the eighth draft eight of the issue and it has really reminded me how important rewriting is and how much difference it can make to approach a scene multiple times. Tonight, armed with editorial notes from fellow Comics Experience workshop member Jourdan McLain, I set about making changes to the opening scene of the issue. 

It's a relatively simple three page scene, with two of the main characters involved but I've probably rewritten the dialogue at least ten times. Too much exposition, not enough exposition, clear plotting but inconsistent characterisation, too vague, too on the nose etc, etc. This evening something clicked. I'd left he script alone for a week or so and focussed on pulling together a one-page synopsis ready to pitch.  Working on that and re-reading the editorial notes I had sent my subconscious into overdrive and as soon as I looked at the pages tonight I could feel my writing mojo rising (with apologies to Jim Morrison). Each line made more sense than it ever had before. Suddently even the most subtle change seemed to serve the story and, most importantly, the characters in fundamentally better ways. Dialogue changes made character motivation clearer to the reader and to me. I had that same giddy rush usually reserved for being stuck in a plotting corner then suddenly finding the perfect answer to get your way out of it. A few hours work, three pages of script revisited, mulled over and refashioned for the umpteenth time and it was just as enjoyable as when I'd been winging it for twenty two pages instead. I loved every minute of it. After all rewriting is writing, as they say. 

 

WIP - Chalk

I've been fighting the urge to say too much about this project as it's in the relatively early stages, but I couldn't resist. Chalk is a British set urban fantasy, planned as a five-issue mini series with the potential to develop into a series of arcs or even an ongoing title. It's been co-created with artist Ho Seng Hui. If you liked my work on The Interactives, I think this will be right up your street. Much of the plot is complete and Issue 1 is currently going through rewrites. 

Here are some of the main cast.

Professor Howard Chalk

Hoshiko Deguchi

Detective Inspector Jack Long

More to follow on this as things develop further. In the meantime you can listen to the Spotify playlist of music that's helped inspire the story and shape the tone. 

WIP - 7 Shades

A couple of years ago I was approached by my friend Dave Clifford, artist on Dexter's Half Dozen, about collaborating on something together. Not only did he want us to work together, he also already had a project in mind. He ran the high concept for his supernatural western idea past me and it was enough to get me interesting in giving it a go. He then sent me a pitch package with character overviews, hints at the overarching plot and some initial sketches and painted artwork. 

Character sketch from Dave's initial pitch. 

Character sketch from Dave's initial pitch. 

We finally found time to discuss things in more detail in April this year. Being two British creators, that met meeting up in the pub. Dave expanded on the initial conceit he had, taking me through enough story for 100+ issues. I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas that he had and the more we talked, the more potential storylines and characters he came up with. It took us a few more meet ups before we have whipped 7 Shades into shape. I asked Dave lots of questions about the core characters and their motivations and focussed on trying to shape a story arc that would introduce us to the world and provide a satisfactory story if that was all we were able to tell. 

From Dave's initial pitch.

From Dave's initial pitch.

Back of napkin notes were typed up into a coherent story structure, the first four arcs were loosely planned before we really honed in on the launch arc. Initially drilling down what would happen in each issue, before breaking down Issue 1 even more into a page by page breakdown. From this I set about writing a plot first, Marvel style script for Issue 1. This felt like a much better approach rather than writing full script, as the story had originated from Dave and he was planning to create fully painted artwork.  It also fitted with the spirit of how we would plotting together, taking his huge array of ideas for characters, plots, sub-plots and visual set-ups and shaping them into a linear story. It gave us scope to come up with new things in the dialogue based on how Dave approached the visuals. 

A page from Issue 1.

A page from Issue 1.

It was after our third meet-up that I set about writing the first issue. Tonight we met up again, for our fourth in person chat about the project. Almost half of Issue 1 (which will be 30 pages in total) have been painted and it was amazing to get to look through the original art. We caught up, had a few drinks and discussed some new elements that we can weave into the story based on how the art looked and the tone it conveyed. I'll have the pages to show in their digital form at the Bristol Comic Expo next weekend. I'm really excited to get this project moving. 

Bristol bound

It's only 13 days until  Bristol International Comic and Small Press Expo returns, bringing the world of comics back to its spiritual UK home. Having attended shows there since 2001 and having exhibited there since 2007 I'm very much looking forward to it.

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After years taking a table under the name of publishing imprints Orang Utan Comics and more recently Dapper Chimp Press, this will be the first Bristol convention I've attended in my own name. I'll have copies of The Lament of Lady Mary for sale, the medieval one-shot from Unseen Shadows with art by Conor Boyle (Hookjaw). 

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I'll also have preview art from a new project, supernatural western  Seven Shades created by Dexter's Half Dozen artist Dave Clifford. We've had great fun developing the series together this year and can't wait to show you how things are shaping up. Issue 1 is written (Marvel style) and Dave is about halfway through the painted art for the debut issue. 

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I will also be selling original art by Eagle award nominated artist and my long time collaborator, Azim Akberali. Dubbed the African Alex Ross, his painter pin ups have been shipped over from Tanzania for me to sell on his behalf. I'll be posting a full list and taking pre-orders, but in the meantime this Buck Rogers image should serve to whet your appetite. 

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If you're heading to Bristol for the expo, I hope to see you there. Find out more about the event here

 

Gemmell Award nomination for Steve Aryan

Huge congratulations to my long time writing collaborator Steve Aryan, whose debut novel Battlemage has been nominated for a Gemmell Award. The fantasy book, the first in the Age of Darkness trilogy from Orbit Books, is shortlisted in the Morningstar Award. 

Voting is open now until Friday 19th August and the winner will be announced in September. Battlemage and its sequel Bloodmage are both available from all good book shops....always wanted to say that. 

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Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour: LIVE

Next weekend two of my long time friends from the world of geek culture will be providing a full day's worth of podcasting entertainment. 

Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour: LIVE sees Stacey Taylor join forces with Geek Syndicate's Barry Nugent to broadcast live for 24 hours raising money for Alzheimer's Society. Yours truly will be joining them on Sunday morning for the 6.30-7.30 slot with no safety net and no editing.

So don't forget to tune in live and to donate to this excellent cause via justgiving.

My comic reading origin story

I listened to the latest episode of Grouchy Old Geeks last week (formerly Comic Book Outsiders) and they were talking about how they go into reading comics when they were growing up. It inspired me to think about my own back story and how I got into the medium as a reader and later a writer. Although I do have a feeling I may have blogged about this on my old site previously, so apologies if you have read this before.

The first comic that I read regularly was Whizzer and Chips, a British humour weekly along the lines of The Beano, The Dandy and Buster. The conceit of two rival comics inhabiting one publication made this comic more exciting and seemingly more anarchic then those other similar titles. I liked this comic so much that I got my Gran to start ordering it from the local newsagents for me. Going into the shop to collect my order was the highlight of my weekend or after school trips into town. 

When I stopped reading Whizzer and Chips I moved onto Tiger, a sports based anthology book featuring football strips Hot Shot Hamish and Billy's Boots alongside wrestler Johnny Cougar and other stories like Martin's Marvellous Mini. Hot Shot Hamish, along with Roy of the Rovers was one of the first characters I tried to draw myself. 

Around the same time as this the kind of t-shirts you could buy were very similar to kids' clothes now and photos of me at first school age tend to show me in a Hulk, Star Wars or Flash Gordon (the first film I saw in the cinema) t-shirt . Along with the Incredible Hulk TV show my gateway to super hero comics was largely thanks to the animated series Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, which teamed the titular web-slinger with Iceman and Firestar.  It wasn't long before I was subscribing to the Marvel UK reprints of Spider-Man

I was an avid Spider-Man reader, but at the time Peter Parker was just one isolated character to me, as Iceman and Firestar didn't feature and other Marvel heroes only appeared sporadically in the title. That all changed in 1985 when Marvel UK reprinted the crossover series Secret Wars and suddenly I was introduced to the wider Marvel Universe. I was suddenly reminded of heroes I already knew like The Fantastic Four and the Hulk and introduced to lots of heroes and villains I didn't know such as the X-Men, She-Hulk and Wrecking Crew.  My mind was blown by the scope and scale of the Marvel Universe and things like Marvel's Secret Artist and the inclusion of Alpha Flight as the back up strip made me a verified Marvel zombie pretty quickly. Spidey's costume becoming black, Ben Grimm staying behind, She-Hulk joining the FF and Dr Doom being the most interesting villain of all made a young me wide-eyed with enthusiasm. I was just as interested in Secret Wars 2, although I haven't re-read that to see if it deserves to be quite as maligned as it is. It was around this time that I started to dabble with thoughts of being a comic artist (I hadn't gotten my head around the idea of writers) and got Stan Lee's How to draw comics the Marvel way and some other cartooning books too.

I got the same rush that Secret Wars gave me when another book arrived in the newsagents. Action Force, or GI Joe as it was originally called in the US, was another book that I positively adored. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up when I see the old covers for the series. Like most readers at the time the ninja characters of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were my favourites, but the scope and scale of this military world was also what I loved about it. 

Football Picture Story Monthly began in 1986 and was my other comic drug around the time of Secret Wars and Action Force. Each issue, which was the same size as Commando, was a whole standaone story and as a football loving comic reader it was perfectly pitched at me. This was the book that made me more of a collector, as rather than subscribing to the series I would go to newsagents in any town I visited and pick up the ones I didn't have. I loved the way that they used to bring characters back for sequels and Jon Stark and particularly High Rise Rovers were big personal favourites. When I got to write the Fame:Beckham book for Bluewater I was trying to get back the same kind of feeling that those books used to give me and I even added High Rise Rovers within graffiti as an easter egg in the issue.  I kept reading the books into my mid teens and when I used to attend the AFC Bournemouth Summer Soccer School I would sometimes read these on the way to and from the training ground. 

As well as picking up UK comics and UK reprints of US material I started to buy US comics like Daredevil and The Punisher around this time too, picking up whatever I saw in newsagents and feeling a real rush from them being US sized and full of US ads. I gradually drifted away from comics, leaving them behind to be replaced by low budget action films and particularly martial arts movies. I'd read the occasional 2000AD but it hadn't really got its hooks into me and I soon saw comics as a childish pursuit as my GCSES, A-Levels and University beckoned. 

I think my break from comics lasted from 1989 to 1999, so I missed the crazy boom and bust nature of the 90s, the launch of Image comics and the shift to the direct market. It was my first ever beach holiday, two weeks in Rhodes that unintentionally brought me back to comics. I'd read all the magazines and books that I'd packed in my case and had wandered to the shops to find something else to fill my time. I noticed that one of the shops had a rack full of American comics, both Marvel and DC titles. I picked up a couple and read them as soon as I got back to the sunbed. I think it was a Hulk issue and a Batman book, but I'm not 100% sure (although I will still have them somewhere). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them and I headed back to the shop and bought all their stock and two issues of Wizard magazine.  

That was it, I was a comic reader again. I was soon buying Marvel comics again, picking up 2000AD regularly and collecting trades of many of the titles I'd missed like Preacher, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns

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By the time of my next holiday the following year I had bought enough singles issues and trades to fill a room in the house and I was already thinking about writing comics and attending conventions. Alongside the comics themselves, it didn't take long for my screenwriting books to be replaced by books on writing for comics instead. Haing wanted to draw comics as a child, then planned to write for the screen when older, I suddenly realised the perfect place for my creativity was staring me in the face.  This was the book that made me believe that was possible. 

 Between RevivalSaga, Nailbiter, Fuse, Deadly Class, Lazarus, Southern Bastards and Sex Criminals my reading these days tends to be Image Comics trades.  One thing is for sure, I don't think I'll ever not be a comics reader again. Alongside writing for the medium, reading comic books is still one of my greatest pleasures. I can't imagine not being a comics reader any more than I could imagine not watching movies or TV shows or listening to music. Anyone who loves stories should be exploring all the great titles the medium has to offer. 

Big Big Inspiration Part Two

As I'm writing this I'm listening to Along the Ridgeway, the third song on the new Big Big Train album Folklore (which isn't in shops until May 27th, so I highly recommend that you pre-order it now). If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll remember the name of the band, as they were the subject of a long and praise laden post last August.  

Since that blog post, my daughter and I have had two more unforgettable days that revolve around the critically acclaimed band . In March we spent the day on St.Catherine's Hill in Winchester being extras in the video for the album's title track  (which you can watch below) and yesterday we were with the band again, this time in Box, Wiltshire. We were lucky enough to spend the day alongside many more of the band's fans, known collectively as Passengers, at the Folklore listening party at Real World Studios, musical home to legendary singer Peter Gabriel and the place where the album was recorded. 

We were also treated to a two song acoustic set by the band, minus drummer Nick D'Virgilio who was back in the States but did join us by video later. Hearing Wassail and Uncle Jack played up close and personal was an unexpected treat.

This is all very good and well and just like the concert last year at Kings Place in London both these days will live long in the memory, but what exactly does it have to do with my writing? Well in my August 2015 post I said the following and it has proven to be very true. 

Music has always shaped me as a person and as a creative and Big Big Train will continue to be a big part of that. 

I'm working on a new comic project currently, I can't say much about it yet as it's very early days with no artist attached and nothing pitched to publishers. What I can say is that I've loosely plotted it as a five issue series and Issue 1 is completely broken down with seventeen first draft pages written. Tonally it's not a million miles away from my 2011 book 'The Interactives' and it's already it's shaping up to be a book only I could write. I've taken inspiration from lots of sources, including Big Big Train's back catalogue and some of the iconography surrounding their latest release. I've also been listening to two albums by another modern prog band Phideaux, The Great Leap and in particular Doomsday Afternoon along with anything I can find on Spotify's The Sound of Neo-Progressive playlist, while working through the plot. I find that the best bands in the genre have music that really helps expand your mind and frees up the imagination. I do almost all of my plotting in the gym these days, on the treadmill doing something I've christened "Running through a story", which should probably be the subject of a process post all of its own.  

If you read the previous blog, it outlined some things that becoming a fan of BBT had made me think about when approaching a new project.

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people.
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British.
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional.
  5. Smile.

Does this new series meet those criteria? Not intentionally, as this wasn't set out as a plan or manifesto. However, by being true to myself and evoking the mood and spirit of Big Big Train's music has definitely taken me in the right direction. 

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people. I'm on the look out for an artist. 
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British. The story is all set in England. 
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other. There are some interesting things in Issue 1 already. 
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional. I can see the book going more that way over time. 
  5. Smile. I've been doing that every day while working on this story, it's been great fun. 

I'm sure that as I become more accustomed to BBT's latest long player (I'm only on listen number four) it will have an even more profound impact on my approach to my work. I should have a first draft of Issue 1 of the new book completed this month and I'm hoping that once I have an artist I can start sharing a few more details. In the meantime....Wassail! 

 

 

Lady Mary hits Comixology

The Lament of Lady Mary, the second one-shot story I wrote for Barry Nugent's Unseen Shadows universe made its way to Comixology yesterday. You can find out more about the writing process here

Lady Mary Cademus lost both the men she loved in the First Crusade.  But now 8 years later one of them, her son Oliver, has returned alive.   And he isn’t alone. 

Script: Pete Rogers  Pencils: Conor Boyle Colours: Jo McLelland  Letters: Conor Boyle

 

 

Source: https://unseenshadows.com/comics/the-lament-of-lady-mary/

Taking the Action to the Syndicate

When I'm not writing, I co-host Bags of Action, a monthly action movie podcast, with my friend Steve Aryan. In each episode we pick a film and spend about an hour picking it apart, before both giving it a score - between 1 and 5 Bags of Action. We've talked about a mix of classic movies we've seen numerous times, like Predator and Point Break, through to new films we're seeing for the first time, like John Wick and Creed. Every now and then we might do a triple bill, with three episodes dedicated to the same action star. 

 

From May we'll be moving home to be part of the hugely popular Geek Syndicate network, so I thought now was a good time to let you know what films we've covered in the past few years, as they are all still sitting on the old feed. if you wanted to check them out.  

Ep 1 Blind Fury (Rutger Hauer) 

Ep 2 Haywire (Gina Carano) 

Ep 3 Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee) 

Ep 4 Hard Boiled (Chow Yun Fat) 

Ep 5 Rambo (Sly Stallone) 

Ep 6 Stone Cold (Brian Bosworth) 

Ep 7 The Expendables (Sly Stallone, Jason Statham etc) 

Ep 8  The Expendables 2 (Sly Stallone, Jason Statham etc) 

Ep 9 The Last Boy Scout (Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans) 

Ep 10 Dredd  (Karl Urban) 

Ep 11 Universal Soldier (JVCD, Dolph Lungren) 

Ep 12 Next of Kin (Patrick Swayze) 

Ep 13 Point Break (Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves) 

Ep 14 Road House (Patrick Swayze) 

Ep 15 Best of the Best (Eric Roberts) 

Ep 16 Red Heat (Arnie) 

Ep 17 Last Action Hero (Arnie) 

Ep 18 Predator (Arnie) 

Ep 19 Big Trouble in Little China (Kurt Russell) 

Ep 20 Escape from New York (Kurt Russell) 

Ep 21 Tango & Cash (Kurt Russell, Sly Stallone) 

Ep 22 John Wick (Keanu Reeves) 

Ep 23 Salt (Angelina Jolie) 

Ep 24 Predator: Dark Ages/Kung Fury (shorts) 

Ep 25 Aliens (Sigourney Weaver) 

Ep 26 Cobra (Sly Stallone) 

Ep 27 Rocky (Sly Stallone) 

Ep 28 Bloodsport (JCVD) 

Ep 29 Run All Night (Liam Neeson) 

Ep 30 Creed (Michael B Jordan, Sly Stallone) 

Ep 31 The Mechanic  (Jason Statham) 

Ep 32 Wild Card (Jason Statham) 

 

 

Collaboration not commoditisation

Unless you are working in prose and self-publishing without an editor, writing tends to involve other people. When you are putting a comic project together you are very much becoming part of a creative team. 

Declan Shalvey posted something on twitter yesterday that reminded me how important it is to approach every book you work on as a true collaboration.  It was an ad that a writer had placed online, looking for an artist for their long-term project. 

I'm going to give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume that somewhere in amongst these twenty points they have the best of intentions. I'm not going to focus on the sheer misogyny of #8, the sheer ludicrousness of #7 or even the infeasibility of #10 on a back-end only deal, instead I want to turn my attention to the overall sentiment of their post. For me this is a prime example of commoditising creativity, seeing the creation of a comic as a production line and not something fluid that evolves as more people bring their own talents into play . Not only does it suggest a 'writer is king' mentality, it also shows a complete lack of respect for the most important person in a comic project  - the artist. If you can't draw and you can't convince an artist to work with you, you don't and never will have a comic. Writers have to be prepared to court their potential artist, rather than pillorying them in advance. 

I'm going to guess that the person who posted this ad has been let down before (possibly by a female child who drew one page of stick figures with no faces or hands and had to walk away due to their fear of success) and is using that one bad experience as the basis for how to treat a potential artist. Even if this writer has bucket loads of cash to throw at an artist up front, I think the attitude they have taken would make finding someone to work with challenging. Ironically it would leave the kind of unreliable, unprofessional collaborator that they seem to fear as the most likely respondent. Add to that the fact that there is, as seen in #17, no money on the table then the one potential motivator for anyone with talent and an ounce of self respect to apply doesn't exist.

The Interactives creative team. 

The Interactives creative team. 

Having worked with a number of artists over the years, some of whom I met through posting ads online, it's easy for me to be judgemental about posts like this one. I've also worked in radio, television and advertising where being part of a creative team is central to all aspects of the work, so probably have more experience of bringing out the best in collaborators. Even so, treating others as you'd like to be treated is just a basic part of being a decent human being. And I strongly believe that a commoditised creative process is fundamentally the wrong approach. Work with talented people, make them feel valued, let them express themselves, give them a strong sense of ownership and watch them fly. Collaboration for the win! 

Something old, something new...

I decided that I wanted 2016 to be a year where I procrastinated less and wrote more, and so far that's be going to plan, as the year has gotten off to a very productive start.

Title - TBC

(Comic short) 

In January I took an idea that had been in my head for about four years and finally put it on the page as a short story. It doesn't have a title yet, but I already had it accepted for an anthology title once a suitable artist is found. This story ended up taking on a life of its own and went in a slightly different direction than I had planned and the ending wasn't what I was expecting. I think the story is all the better for these changes though. 

Working Title - Viva Las Venus  

(Comic mini-series) 

Re-evaluating old work has been part of this year's plan too. Looking back on unfinished projects and deciding whether to ditch them and move on or give them another chance has been a wise move. 

This space opera project started life about ten years ago and I wrote the whole mini series for submission to Visionary Comics. I've gone back to the concept a few times over the years, but disliked so much of what I'd written that I could never quite get past it. This time I ditched a lot more, kept the world and the two main characters but dropped parts of the high concept. I also brought in characters from two other sci-fi story ideas that had stalled in the early stages. Creating an ensemble piece gave the series a new life and pushed me to take the story further and I'm really enjoying working on it. I think two pages from the original book have made it into this new version. 

I wrote Issue 1 in January and did two rounds of rewrites in February. The plan is to do some more rewrites this month and then to look for a suitable artist while working on the other issues.  

Title - The Package

(Short Film) 

   

 

 

This project started life a short comic script in about 2009, when I first came up with the idea. Two years later, having lost the original script I wrote it again, following the same plot and that version has been sitting on my hard drive ever since. Every now and then I'd consider pitching it to an anthology title, but it never quite felt like the right fit.  

I've been thinking for a while that the concept is much more suited to film, so took the plunge and wrote it a third time last month, this time as a short film. The cringeworthy dialogue from the 2011 version has all gone and despite the plot being essentially the same, the characterisation is stronger, the pacing more interesting and the overall finished script far more satisfying. It's coming in at eighteen pages currently, so would be pushing twenty minutes so my next job is to try and get it back to fifteen minutes.  Once I've done that I'll start thinking about ways to get it made. 

Title - Break

(Short Film) 

Another short film, which I've been mulling over for the past few weeks prompted by a specific call out for submissions. The submission has some specific criteria that the story has to meet and at one point I did consider reworking 'The Package" to make it eligible. In the end I decided that having two shorts written was a better plan than trying to make that story into something it wasn't intended to be. I got the plot for this one down on paper yesterday and I'll need to have it written, polished and submitted by the end of the month. 

As well as these projects I'm also working on 'Seven Shades', a supernatural western comic series with artist Dave Clifford (Dexter's Half Dozen). It's based on an idea he had, which we fleshed out together in January. I'll be doing this one Marvel style, to allow him to really flex his artist muscles and I should be starting work on Issue 1 very soon.

Sci-fi mini series 'Flux' which I'm co-writing with Steve Aryan (Battlemage) is gathering pace. Artist Maysam Barza is hard at work on Issue 2, Issue 3 is written and we're in the process of tightening up the breakdown for Issue 4 before we start scripting it.

Lots going on, hopefully I can maintain this pace throughout the year. 

 

 

Nugecon 2016

Last weekend eight podcasters headed to the Cotswolds for the inaugural Nugecon event, proving that the post comic convention pub chat can stand on its own two feet. We took the essence of a comic convention, threw out the hall and the panels, the tables and the exhibitors and shut ourselves away in a barn conversion with plenty of food and booze.  While there was no artists alley, there was a six hour game of the Battlestar Galactica board game to take its place.  I came away from the three days with the urge to re-watch Unbreakable and with the realisation that I'm not as good at table football as I thought I was and that I fall asleep too easily. Already looking forward to Nugecon 2017.

Please take time to visit our sponsors Bags of Action, Comic Book Outsiders, Geek Syndicate and Sidekickcast. 

 

 

 

Looking back on 2015

As I start to make writing plans for 2016, it felt like a good time to look back on what has happened in the past twelve months. 

In Print

Two books came out in 2015 with my my name on them and both involved me writing in universes created by others. 

The Law Above was a short story for the second Torsobear anthology 'All Stitched Up', the brainchild of writer/artist Brett Uren. I thoroughly enjoying reading the first fluffy noir collection about detective Ruxby Bear and his adventures in Toyburg. So I was very pleased to get the chance to join forces with children's book illustrator Mike Motz to tell a tale of the prison guards who were once involved in the Saturday Morning war. As a big fan of 80s action adventure cartoons, the subject matter was right up my street.

The collection features a veritable who's who of indie creators like Cy Dethan, Glenn Moane, Juan Romera, Jon Scrivens and many more.   You can pick up the collection on Amazon or on Comixology.

'Imagine Frank Miller's Sin City... Now, color it with all the crayons from a third grader's school box . . . That's the barest inkling of the cruel delights that await you in this
incredible volume.' - Tony Caballero, Fanboy Comics

The Lament of Lady Mary was my second one-shot for the Unseen Shadows universe, created by Barry Nugent and spinning out of his pulp novel series. This time I got to stretch my writing muscles in a historical setting as my story, which centred on the relationship between Lord Oliver Cademus and his Mother the titular Lady Mary, was set after the end of the crusades. It also meant I finally got to work with artist Conor Boyle (Pirates of the Lost World), something I've wanted to do for years. He was the perfect artist for this story and colourist Jo McClelland helped give the story even more depth. It's one of the scripts I'm most proud of and you as it is set at the very start of the Unseen Shadows timeline, you don't need to have read the first novel Fallen Heroes or any of the other comic stories to follow along. You can pick the book up now from Comicsy

In Progress  

Things have been moving forward with Flux, the sci-fi thriller mini series I'm co-writing with Steve Aryan (Battlemage) with art by Maysam Barza (Fubar) . We've got ourselves a publisher,  Issue 1 has been lettered by Sean Rinehart. Issue 2 is partway through, Issue 3 is written and is undergoing rewrites and Issue 4 will be written next month. Expect news of a release date for the series to be announced early in 2016.

Work is also underway on another series written with Steve, The Promise, which features art by Simone Guglielmini (Near Death) and one written solo, Fifteen-Minute Heroes with art by Cheuk Po (Blood Dolls). 

I've gone back to my roots in 2015 by taking up various offers to write short stories for anthologies. Two stories are currently with artists, Back to Work is with Federico De Luca (Murder One) and Good Night, God Bless is being worked on by Wamberto Nicomdemes (Rage). 

Back to Work

Back to Work

My role as Comics Experience's Digital Content Editor has been gathering pace and keeping me busy, more to follow on that front when we hit the New Year. There will also be an announcement relating to the no (comic) code anthology I'm putting together to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Pearl Jam album no code.  

All in all an eventful 2015, with lots of projects on the go, which meant my convention appearances were somewhat curtailed. Next year my convention calendar will be somewhat fuller in 2016, with London Super Comic Con, Bristol Comic Expo and Thought Bubble among the shows that I'll be attending. 

Here's to a very productive 2016. 

 

 

 

 

 

Favourite things in 2015

This year has absolutely flown by, and I find myself compiling my favourites of the year list all over again. Like last year this isn't a definitive 'best of' list, merely a compilation of what I most enjoyed in the last twelve months. You can see the 2014 list here

TV Drama – Marvel's Daredevil.

Matt-Daredevil-Character-Poster.jpg

By no means perfect, Daredevil was a bold new step in the right direction for Marvel's broadcast output, bringing the Marvel Knights world to play alongside the more family friendly cinematic universe. After the 2003 film version it looked like the Hell's Kitchen blind lawyer's story was unlikely to be told again, but they managed to pull it off by making a series that really felt like the book it was based on.  This was a show I never imagined existing and I'm pleased that it does. 

Honourable mentions – I was very close to picking Ray Donovan Season Three as my favourite show, it was certainly my favourite returning series this year. After the slightly hit and miss nature of Season Two it was good to see the show returning to the edge of your seat tension that made the first season so compelling. Liev Schreiber, Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok continue to deliver exceptional performances each week and I can't wait for the next series. Better Call Saul helped me get over my general distrust of prequels, the show featured some brilliant writing and excellent performances too. It both worked as part of the Breaking Bad world and also as its own thing, mixing comedy and tragedy to great effect. On this side of the pond it was River that held my interest the most, a slightly surreal detective series set in London featuring a powerhouse performance from Stellan Skarsgard, who should be showered with plaudits and awards.  It's also the second of my favourite shows this year to feature the ever versatile Eddie Marsan.  Marvel's second Netflix show Jessica Jones rounds off the list, we're only seven episodes in and I don't think we'll get it all watched before the year is out. Another interesting show and proof the Marvel/Netflix deal was a very good thing. And for the second year running, yes I know I need to watch Fargo.

Film – Star Wars - The Force Awakens

This really isn't the film I was expecting to top this list, but I'm pleasantly surprised that it did. I was grinning from start to finish and there were moments where my skin was actually tingling. We live in an age where trying to recapture the feelings of our youth dominates mainstream media, this is often to the detriment of quality. Having felt like a nine year old for a couple of hours again this is one occasion where touching on old themes and bringing back familiar characters worked exceptionally well. Unlike the prequels this completely felt like a Star Wars film and you were immersed in another world. The new characters were brilliant and the torch has very much been passed. Between this and last year's Guardians of the Galaxy it's fun to go into space again. 

Honourable mentions –

Birdman was nothing like I expected and all the better for it. I've always been a fan of Ed Norton and it was good to see him stretching his acting muscles again and for Michael Keaton to get to explore a character that parallels his own Batman experiences. The film made me think a lot about life, creativity and mortality and it is deserving of all the praise it has received.  Southpaw isn't the boxing film I was expecting to put on this list, but with Creed's UK release date being in January, this was the one big screen piece of ringside action for me this year. Like most of these kind of films it was very predictable, but it hit all the right emotional beats for me, coming close to being a modern day Champ. I could watch Forest Whitaker train Jake Gyllenhaal all day and before I saw The Force Awakens this would have been my pick. Ant-Man was far better than expected and the casting of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly worked very well. There were still some Edgar Wright touches in there alongside what was added later. It wasn't close to being my favourite film of the year, but was certainly my preferred Marvel movie of the 2015.  Inside Out was exceptional, thoughtful, moving and inspirational in a way that most live actin films aren't and I'm really looking forward to watching it again.  Indie horror romance Spring was a film that would have flown under my radar if I hadn't watched it as part of a workshop I was working on. The main performances are excellent and it has its own unique vibe, if you haven't seen it I'd recommend you do.  John Wick and Big Hero 6 were both late releases in the UK, having been shown elsewhere in 2014. Big Hero 6 was great fun, but like The Good Dinosaur it suffered by comparison from being in the same year as Inside Out.   John Wick was one of the best action movies I've seen in years, I'm someone who's always championed Keanu Reeves and it's great to see him have a film like this and the planned sequel to sink his teeth into.  I didn't get to see Whiplash to see if that film would have made it onto the list.  Mad Max Fury Road looked amazing and I definitely enjoyed it, but I didn't seem to get the same level of enjoyment as others did so it sneaks onto this list for the visual spectacle. 

Album – Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson

Steven_Wilson-Hand-Cannot-Erase--4-Booklet-.JPG

When Hand. Cannot. Erase. came out in February I knew straight away it was something special. I've been a fan of Mr Wilson since i first heard Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album playing in a record shop in 1999. A concept album inspired by the death of a London woman, which went unnoticed for three years, it's a exceptionally emotional 65 minutes of music. Regardless of whether you like progressive rock, I think everyone should listen to it, to feel its impact. Probably the first album to almost bring me to tears. I wish I'd got to see it performed live. 

Honourable mentions –

It took a very impressive set of songs to mean that Sol Invictus by Faith No More wasn't my favourite album of 2015. I'm a huge Mike Patton devotee and a big fan of all the band's work, rather than just the high profile Jim Martin period that the media tends to latch onto. I'd been eagerly waiting this new set of songs and they didn't disappoint, there was just one album that connected with me more this year, otherwise this would have taken the crown as expected.  Meliora by Ghost was another excellent long player and might just be their best album to date, immediate and evocative and overall great fun to listen to. It was great to have Baroness back at the end of the year with Purple, with their first release since the coach crash that caused two of the band to call it quits. And so we watch you from Afar were a band I discovered at the start of the year as the soundtrack to much of my writing, their Heirs album continued their rich vein of form.  +4626-COMFORTZONE by Beardfish and Wolflight by Steve Hackett, both prog albums I discovered via my love of Big Big Train, got a lot of play from me in 2015 too.  Higher Ground by Chris Cornell was another album I played a lot this year and there was a lot to like about it, particularly the folk vibe on some songs. Sadly I will always compare his solo work to his first solitary outing Euphoria Morning which is one of my favourite records, although in some ways that was him fronting Eleven. 

Song -  Superhero by Faith No More


When I first Superhero  I really wasn't sure about it, it felt a bit like FnM by numbers but after a few listens to the true genius of this anthemic track shone through. It's up there with their best songs and I've been singing along to this aural gut punch all year. 

Honourable mentions –

Wassail by Big Big Train was within a hairs breadth of being my pick (it was was certainly robbed at the Prog Awards this year) and it's another singalong anthem albeit with a very different tone. It's brilliant on record and even better live.  Nearly forgot my broken heart by Chris Cornell was the other single that I really liked this year, it's quite poppy but still maintains the immaculate attention to detail and superb vocals you'd expect from the Soundgarden frontman. Spectral Mornings 2015 was a song I played a lot, not a new track but a new charity version complete with vocals (the original as an instrumental). The track featured s who's who of modern prog and Steve Hackett himself. 

GigBig Big Train (London)

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This was by far the easiest decision to make when looking back on the year. On Sunday 16th August my daughter and I were truly captivated by a phenomenal performance by a world class group of musicians, when we were lucky enough to see Big Big Train play Kings Place in London. We were in the second row and make a few brief cameo appearances in the Victorian Brickwork video from the show. I'm not sure another gig would ever top it in my lifetime, let alone this year, I still think about that show every day. Life affirming, majestic stuff. 

Honourable mentions –

Shawn Smith at Bristol Folk House in April was another intimate seated affair and it isn't often that you get to share the toilet hand dryer with the act you've just seen. It was great to see him solo a few years after enjoying him with Brad. The live album of this show is available hereThe Manic Street Preachers playing all of Holy Bible, followed by a greatest hits set would have been a dream gig for me at one time. It was great to hear arguably their best album played live, but the sunny June daytime Cardiff Castle setting and crowd of anthem lovers alongside the more rabid fans made it a real mixed bag.  If only I'd made it to the Tin Spirits gig in Swindon, as I have a strong feeling that would have made this list. 

Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics) 

 

For the second year running Lazarus is my favourite book and by the end of the year it was the only thing I was reading in single issues, as I'm reading the likes of Nailbiter, Revival, Zero, Saga, Southern Bastards, Deadly Class. It's a top drawer sci-fi, with gorgeous art, well rounded characters and the ability to surprise. If you aren't reading it you should be. 

Podcast – iFanboy

This was the year that I realised how much this podcast has become part of my weekly routine. Monday morning wouldn't be Monday morning without their Pick of the Week show, even though I am reading most books in trade so have to skip forward chunks. With Ron back on the show (although it was sad to see Paul go) I'm reminded how much time I've spent listening to these guys over the years. The first thing I do after seeing a geeky movie or TV show is to listen to the special edition podcast to find out if we agree, we usually do. If you've seen Star Wars The Force Awakens, they articulate what I thought far better than me, listen to that episode here

Honourable mentions –

It's the usual suspects for me, Geek Syndicate, Nerdist Writers Panel, Austin Film Festival's On Story podcast, Comics Experience Make Comics, Comic Book Outsiders, Word Balloon and The Hat Decides (which I hear is due back very soon). Plaudits must got to PJ and Doktor Andy for taking over The Sidekickcast and making it their own thing. I will, of course, direct you to Bags of Action the action movie show I present with my friend and writing partner Steve Aryan. 

So, there you have it. Those choices were a lot harder than last  year, with a wealth of things I really enjoyed across all mediums. That's not including some of the older things that I really liked such as the whole run of Battlestar Galactica, classic albums by Peter Gabriel era Genesis, The Dark Tower comics from Marvel and the exceptional Secret Identity Superman book by Busiek and Immonen - all of which were ineligible of course. Anyway, here's to another year filled with things to enjoy. 

 

 

Throwback Thursday - The Interactives

I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of my previous work and to give a bit of insight into what went into their creation. I'm kicking things off with the first mini series I had published, after years of writing short stories, "The Interactives" was released by Markosia in August 2011. 

The public is obsessed with reality and the creatures from fantasy fiction fear extinction. Dragons, giants, orcs, goblins, and trolls — one by one they’re breaking through from The Realm to The Real. War is coming to London and only geek blogger scallywag and his online followers stand in their way. Let your imagination run wild and get ready for some inter-action!
Launching the book at The Comic Guru in Cardiff

Launching the book at The Comic Guru in Cardiff

This book was definitely a labour of love and The Interactives was a very personal piece of work. I clung to the old adage about writing something that only you could write, dispensed with thinking too much about the audience or market and just wrote what felt right.  Less dark and less sophisticated than other books I'd started to write, changing direction for this series was very liberating.  A couple of the Marvel books I was reading at the time ended up being big influences on the book's tone, Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI-13 and Dan Slott and Christos Gage's Mighty Avengers run. Those two books gave me the confidence to have more fun with the subject matter and to be more comfortable setting it in Britain too.

The book was inspired by lots of of different things, although articles on library closures and falling literacy rates helped fuel the over-riding concept, as did the rise in online media and user generated content. The main character Scallywag (named after the nickname my Father in Law gave my daughter) is loosely based on me.  The character has to come to terms with not being able to do everything himself, or expecting others to contribute to a task in the way he would have. That's all familar territory for me personally. Learning to be part of a team and an effective leader, without trying to do everything yourself or getting people to do things your way was part of my journey into management. 

I was living in Monmouth and travelling back and forth to Gloucester when the bulk of the book was written, those journeys played a key role in the visuals. The first part of the story is set in Monmouth and the book's opening visuals, a dragon flying over the Welcome to Wales sign, was conjured up on my commute.

 

 

Later scenes are set in the field behind our garden at the time and then the action moves into the town, so it was very much a case of writing what I could see around me. Stonehenge also features in the book, an obvious mystical destination and also one fuelled by a school trip many years ago. Shifting the action to London (which was originally going to be the US) was partially to make the book more universal, but also to tap into my fascination with the tourist side of the city. I wanted to do some big moments like in Godzilla or King Kong, but with London landmarks being under siege instead. It was great fun getting to bring that to life. 

Scallywag's shop 'Killed the cat' is in Bristol's St.Nicholas Market, a place I used to love walking around when I was in the city for comic conventions or work. I actually used to meet for coffee with writer Rob Williams (Unfollow, Ordinary, Dr.Who) right next to the market to get writing advice. He also gave me some great notes on the first draft of the script, one which has a completely different team being dispatched in the second issue. It also featured a dwarf Axl Rose impersonator and an appearance by the Cerne giant. 

'Killed the Cat' in Bristol's St.Nicholas Market

'Killed the Cat' in Bristol's St.Nicholas Market

There's a sense of nostalgia in the book too, which has since become even more prevalent in the entertainment world with constant reboots, reimaginings, reworks and delayed sequels to the things we all liked as children. In 'Killed the Cat' you can see a wealth of items that relate to my childhood viewing and reading, like Alf, CenturionsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Airwolf, Fighting Fantasy Books etc. Music is also something that ended up playing a big part in the book, with some of my musical heroes showing up, particularly those who are no longer with us. When I look back I do wonder if some of these elements were self indulgent, but I always justify it by thinking that the main character is around my age and would have had the same cultural influences I did. These were also elements that helped make the book something that I don't think anyone else would have created. 

I pulled in things like the Suicide Angel from another mini series I'd plotted out but aborted, took more influence from trips to London, including my first ever MCM Comic Con, and from a family visit to Puzzlewood. Looking back I'm not sure how I managed to pull all these different things into a little three issue book. 

Ultimately it was the team of collaborators I had on the book that played the biggest part  in making The Interactives something special, which was very fitting to the theme of the story. I advertised for a penciller/inker on a number of different sites and had an overwhelming response. 17 different artists ended up doing some iniital sample pages and it was Argentinian artist Luciano Vecchio whose work ended up suiting the book the most. His take on the characters made them suddenly far more three dimensional and his work on additional sample pages ended up having a big bearing on the rest of the story. I only had a few pages written when I started looking for collaborators, so his approach helped shape the characters and the world they inhabit.  Luciano's artwork has an animation feel, which fit the tone and feel of the book perfectly. He's since gone on to work with both Marvel and DC, but I'd absolutely love to work with him again one day. 

All new all different Avengers by Luciano Vecchio (Marvel) 

All new all different Avengers by Luciano Vecchio (Marvel) 

Colourist Yel Zamor has been working with my colleagues at Orang Utan Comics already and when I saw her colours on Luciano's artwork there was no way anyone else was colouring this book. She did an exceptional job, not only on the colours, but also as a sounding board and as a stroy editor, letting me know when a scene or sequence didn't quite work for her. That level of investment in the project really made it a pleasure to work on, with ideas and concepts flying back and forth between all three of us. Yel even cosplayed as girl7, one of the book's main characters at Bristol Comic Expo. You can see more of her work on The Only Good Dalek (BBC Books) and The Irons: Hybrid (Madefire).  Adding longtime collaborator Ian Sharman on letters, pre-press and edits rounded off our team. 

The Interactives team at Bristol Comic Expo. 

The Interactives team at Bristol Comic Expo. 

Reviews from the likes of Broken Frontier, Comics Bulletin and Sequential Tart were very positive and my only real regret is that more people didn't get to read the book. I do have a sequel loosely plotted, so maybe one day I'll return to the world again. 

You can find out more about the book on my old blog - Always Write  and if you'd like to pick up a copy, you can do that by clicking on the cover below.