My first article for my friends at Panic in the Skies was so long it had to be split into two parts. It centres around my growing love of the band Genesis and how I overcame my misconceptions about them.
Digital comics platform ComiXology currently has a sale on books from UK publisher Markosia, with 50% or more off across their back catalogue until the 5th of June. So, if you want to pick up some of my previous work, now is a very good time.
Here are some titles I worked on that you can pick up at a bargain price.
A three issue mini series, written by me with art by Luciano Vecchio (Beware the Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Yel Zamor (Grindhouse, Rivers of London).
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.
UK version, full series £1.49
US version, full series $1.99
The Intergalactic Adventures of Zak Ridley
A four issue mini series, co-written by me with Ian Sharman (Hero 9 to 5, Alpha Gods), with art by newcomer Ewan McLaughlin.
Zakk Ridley is just your average smuggler and rogue until he and his robotic partner, Dan, get caught up in an intergalactic conspiracy. Zakk dreams of an easy life roaming the galaxy and making a fast buck, but as they say, in space no one can hear you dream...
UK version, full series £1.49
US version, full series $1.99
British Comics Showcase Anthology Vol.1
This bumper four issue anthology, created by me and Ian Sharman, is where you can see much of my very early work, along with a host of other creators.
What goes on in the minds of the hottest rising talent in comics?A schoolgirl haunted by demons, vampire chicks on motorbikes and retired superheroes are just some of the things you can expect in this deluxe anthology title. Eleventh Hour features exciting new creators from across the globe, with ten standalone stories and a preview of sci-fi series Mamluk.
UK version, 69p
US version $0.99
Some more of my work can be found within the later anthology series FTL and I'd also recommend checking out work by my friends and collaborators Simon Wyatt, Cy Dethan, Ian Sharman and David Wynne elsewhere in the sale too.
I found out a few days ago that my short film script, currently titled 'The Package' has been selected as part of this year's It's my Shout scheme. Things have been moving very quickly since I got the nod and it's only now that I've had the breathing space to be able to share the news properly.
I had a lunchtime meeting today with my director, Lemarl Freckleton, to discuss his vision for the film. It was a refreshing change to be discussing something I'd written in a meeting, rather than someone else's project that I was involved with the visual effects or titles for.
As hoped it was very productive, we both come at the project from a similar thought process visually and narratively and he's already brought some interesting extra elements into play just from this one initial meeting. My next job will be to work on rewrites to get the shooting script into shape, which will be happening in tandem with the pre-production phase, including casting. The ten-minute film is due to be shot in August and will air later this year on BBC Wales and at the It's my Shout event at the Wales Millennium Centre in October. An exciting few months ahead.
It's been a whirlwind few weeks on the screenwriting front. As I posted previously, I found out last month that my short film script 'The Package' was shortlisted for this year's It's my Shout. Since then I had some even better news, when I was notified that I had made it through to the even shorter list of projects that were being considered for production.
As a result of reaching this stage I was invited to the BBC Writers Room residential, two intensive days at Roath Lock, here in Cardiff, the BBC's state of the art centre of excellence for drama and home to Casualty, Pobol y Cwm and Doctor Who. The workshop was overseen by BBC Writers Room Development Producer Rachel Williams and run by experienced producer Henry R Swindell. The first day was an overall look at story and writing for the screen. We discussed and watched lots of film and TV, all of which really helped cement the points that were being made, including relating the theory to our own favourite mainstream movie, in my case Predator.
The second day centred around specific feedback on our scripts and pointers on what to focus on for the next round of rewrites. I was one of the first to get notes, so I spent much of the second day tucked away in a corner with my headphones on, listening to instrumental tracks while working away on the next version of the script.
The notes I received gave me a lot to think about and really pushed me to take the bull by the horns and start to try some new things out. I spent all of last weekend and a good few hours last Monday working on revisions, until I had a version of the script I was happy to submit. The next stage includes not only the team from It's my Shout and the BBC Writers Room evaluating the revised drafts, but also the Directors who have also been selected, who get to decide which of those shortlisted they are most interested in bringing to the screen. Decisions should be made very soon, so I'll have more to say when I hear if I've been successful. Either way, this has all been really valuable and has given me lots of diagnostic tools for not only my screenwriting work, but also my comics projects as well.
I was very pleased to find out this week that my short film script "The Package" has been shortlisted by It's my Shout for further deliberation. This is the second year that I've put a script forward for the scheme, having submitted boxing drama "Break" in 2016.
Should find out in the next weeks whether I am one of the lucky few who have made it through to the BBC Writers Room two day residential script development workshop. Fingers firmly crossed.
If you haven't already read short story 'Back to Work', written by me with art by Gustavo Vasques, you can pick it up on Comixology as part of Outré Anthology Vol. 6: Grotésk, edited by Magnus Aspli and Glenn Moane. Add it to your digital library here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I'm going to have original fully painted art by Azim Akberali to sell at Bristol Comic Expo next weekend including cover art and pin-ups. Art includes covers from the Ray Harryhausen Presents series, Tek War and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Also Azim's take on heroes and villains like Hellboy, Magneto and Margaret Thatcher. Azim has experienced some ongoing health issues which have limited how much art he can create, so he's asked me to sell some of his work on his behalf.
I'll be taking pre-orders, the small pieces are £20 and the large £40 - but I will also be considering offers for the more obscure pieces if they don't sell. These are all original works and not prints, so you'll be owning a one-off piece of art for a fraction of what it should cost.
You can scroll through the gallery above to see more (some have already been sold) and then cross reference with the list below (some have already been sold) if you want to pre-order then email email@example.com with your selection. I've been wrestling with the formatting of the list I have, but I can send you that too which we include publisher info and the size of the piece.
Monarch of Manhattan
Anne of Green Gables
Battle Amongst the Stars
FTL (Faster Than Light)
Logan’s Run 2
Battle Amongst the Stars 2
Female Force: Women in the Media
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Wrath of the Titans
Black Scorpion 2
Black Scorpion 3
PETA poster (featuring BWater characters)
Interagents (Dwight L. Macpherson)
Black Scorpion 5
Black Scorpion & Legend of Isis
Legend of Isis
Swords of Faith
Don’t Blink 2
Eleventh Hour 2
Elementals – Fire
Wrath of the Titans 2
Danick and the Dragon
Fast Reaction – (Card Game)
Force of Will – (Card Game)
Inventor – (Card Game)
Back to Mysterious Island
Back to Mysterious Island 2
Elementals – Air
Brothers in Arms
Eye of the Storm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
If you're heading to Bristol for the expo, I hope to see you there. Find out more about the event here
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.
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.
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.
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 Revival, Saga, 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.
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.
- Collaborate with lots of talented people.
- Don't be afraid to be British.
- Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other
- Don't be afraid to be emotional.
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.
- Collaborate with lots of talented people. I'm on the look out for an artist.
- Don't be afraid to be British. The story is all set in England.
- Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other. There are some interesting things in Issue 1 already.
- Don't be afraid to be emotional. I can see the book going more that way over time.
- 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 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
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)
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.
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!