Saturday 27 February 2021

A Macc-Pow Memory

My thanks to Kevin Lyons for this photo he took of me back in 2019 at the Macc-Pow! event in Macclesfield. I was sketching on a blank Doctor Who cover at the time. The event was superbly run by Marc Jackson and his wife Jane. You can read more about it at this old post of mine here:

I attended various comic conventions all over the UK (and Norway) for exactly 40 years! I miss them and the friends I knew there but the shows will return when it's safe to do so.  

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Facing the Future

Brickman from ELEPHANTMEN comic, 2007.

The solitude of this pandemic certainly gives us time to ponder the world and our place in it. The comics industry is completely different to how it was back in 1983 when I started out. Back then there were still plenty of comics on the newsstand from IPC, and D.C. Thomson. Even Marvel UK, who gave me my first break,  were producing home grown strips. 

There are far less periodical comics now but the graphic novel market has grown. This has meant a shift from weekly strips that were owned by the publishers to stand alone books where the creators retain the rights. Just like "proper" books, with proper contracts and royalties! Sounds great! However, this also means that a different approach is needed to break into that market.

Time was when you'd send off a few pages to a comics publisher and if they liked your style they'd either assign you to take over an existing strip or they'd provide a script for a new character they'd come up with. In my case I usually wrote my own material and created my own characters, so I came up with Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple for example. Once you were commissioned you'd be sure of a long run for the strip for the next few years at least for whatever set page rate they provided. Other than an occasional tweak to the scripts, the editors would let you get on with it. It was good, steady work and a reliable income.

These days, a freelancer may have to learn how to pitch an entire graphic novel, and negotiate a deal. It's no longer enough to be a creator. You now have to be a sales person as well, pitching a convincing story like a modern day Don Draper from Mad Men. 

I must admit the new world that cartoonists now find themselves in is still a learning curve for me. Many artists now do workshops too. I admire anyone who can do that but it's just not me I'm afraid. I've always been happy to meet readers and fellow creators and do panel discussions at cons, but standing up in front of a classroom and doing a workshop isn't something I'm comfortable with. Most of us in comics tended to be a bit introverted. Now we're expected to be performers. It's a different mindset. 

Thankfully there are still a few comics around to contribute to although making a living that way is getting harder and more competitive. I've never been a competitive person. One of the things I liked about comics was that there used to be plenty of work around and it'd be evenly distributed to contributors. Now there are less comics and more and more new creators coming in each year, meaning less work for all. Not that I begrudge any of the creators of course. We were all newcomers once and that's how it goes. 

In four years time I'll be eligible for state pension. Will I carry on working? Of course! I love creating comics. It's part of who I am. Also, it won't be easy just living off a state pension, assuming it even still exists in 2025, so I can't afford to retire. As long as some publishers want to employ me, I'll keep going, health permitting. 

This has been quite a ramble at 2.45 in the morning. The pandemic has taken its toll over the last year but I'm off to bed soon to hopefully start afresh tomorrow. I currently have enough work on until the end of March, so that's something to be grateful for. Hopefully there'll be more work to come. As with the pandemic all we can do is take one day at a time and keep going. 

Saturday 20 February 2021

The DARK NEWT (Dandy, 2012)

It was an honour to become an artist on The Dandy in its final years. The Dandy had been the first comic I had regularly (back in 1964) so it was a personal thrill to be part of the comic's long history. 

The strips I did regularly for The Dandy were Postman Prat and Kid Cops, which ran on and off from 2010 to 2012. (Postman Prat still appears in The Dandy Annual from time to time.) Those characters had been created by the Dandy staff but in 2012 I had the opportunity to create a character myself. The Dark Newt was the result.

This six part series saw Bruce Newt become a superhero to fight crime... in the local pond. In this chapter I've selected, he decides he needs a secret base. Hope you like it!

You can see another chapter at this post of mine from a few years ago:

A few thoughts

The above photo of me and a Dalek was taken at the Brighton Comics Expo in November 2005. Tom Spilsbury of Doctor Who Magazine is in the background, voicing the Dalek to say "Cheeeese!" for the camera.

Today, comic cons are still on hold of course so that means the comics community is still fractured. Many of us keep in touch online though, through social media, video calls, and even the old fashioned phonecall. 

Conventions will start to resume when it's safe to do so. There are no firm plans at the moment, and personally I feel that until more people have been vaccinated and the infection rate is much lower than it is right now, then I won't be going anywhere. I'm confident that convention organisers will try all they can to make the venues safe but the whole layout of events will have to be changed. Social distancing between guests and also between visitors... frankly it doesn't sound like it'd be a lot of fun until we're all vaccinated and the infection/death figures are way down.

Before the pandemic I'd enjoy travelling all over the country by train to various events and staying in numerous hotels. How sanitised will trains and hotel rooms be in the future? Even getting to an event will need careful consideration.

I know some people see that as "living in fear". I choose to see it as living responsibly and trying to survive. I miss my friends very much but holding fire for another year is better than losing them forever. With over two million people dead from Covid we can't rush back into any form of normality yet. 

We'll get there, but let's take it steady. Be safe and take care. 

Thursday 18 February 2021

Fred Frankenstein's Folly (1993)

As I mentioned here last week, Rebellion are publishing an brand new Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular in September and I'm very happy to be one of the contributors. It isn't the first time I've contributed to Monster Fun. Although the original weekly comic had ended before I worked in comics I did contribute to the combined Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Specials during the 1990s. 

Here's one of the pages I did for the Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Special 1993. I was a regular contributor for Buster with Tom Thug and The Vampire Brats and they'd appear in the specials as well but Fred Frankenstein's Folly was a one-off strip that I created. I thought I'd experiment with the art, and decided to use coloured outlines in places instead of the usual black. The result? Well... frankly it didn't turn out too well and it would have looked far better if I'd stuck to using black lines. It wasn't an experiment I'd repeat, - a bit like Fred's own experiment!  

It works a little better if it's desaturated, but it's still not what I was aiming for...

I guess the page turned out to be my folly, but you live and learn. I'm still pleased with the script though, and happy that I got to do a twist-in-the-tale horror comic story! I think the punchline still stands up 28 years later so I hope you like it!

Tuesday 16 February 2021

The Prisoner (2006)

Being an admirer of the classic 1967 TV series The Prisoner I've referenced the show a few times in my strips over the years. I've also provided artwork for charity auctions held by Prisoner fans. One such instance was 15 years ago at the event PM2006, held at Portmeiron, North Wales, where most of the outdoor locations for The Prisoner had been filmed.

Back in 2006, as you may recall, there were rumours and speculations about a new Prisoner TV series, and who might be cast in the role of Number Six, so I thought I'd do a cartoon about that. In the end, as we now know, the series didn't appear until 2009 and it wasn't a patch on the original. 

Anyway, I enjoyed drawing this cartoon and it was amongst the items auctioned off to raise money for the Ty Golbaith Children's Hospice. You can read all about the event at The Unmutual website here:

Monday 15 February 2021

When Pigs Fly! (2013)

A few years ago The Beano kept me busy not only with strips but also the occasional activity page. Here's one I did in 2013 called When Pigs Fly! I was really pleased with this one because not only did it give me another opportunity to draw Dennis the Menace it was also totally daft, - and we all know the daftest comics make the best comics! 

Saturday 13 February 2021

Remembering THE STEEL CLAW

I was interviewed recently (along with others) by Karl Stock for the Judge Dredd Megazine about my recollections of reading The Steel Claw strip when I was a kid. They call me a "comics expert" but I wouldn't go that far. Issue 429 will be out this coming Wednesday.

...and if you enjoyed The Steel Claw or you'd like to check it out, I thoroughly recommend the first volume that Rebellion have just published. The restoration team have done an incredible job considering they had to scan the art from comics that are nearly 60 years old and were originally printed on cheap newsprint! Order your copy from this link:


Wednesday 10 February 2021

WIZ WAR is back!

 I'm pleased that I can now reveal the mystery strip I mentioned a while ago. I've drawn a new two page Wiz War story written by Kek-W and it'll appear in the Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular in October! 

Yes, Rebellion are reviving Monster Fun comic as one of the 52 page specials this year. Although the original Monster Fun Comic was around before my time as a cartoonist, I did contribute to the Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Specials back in the 1990s so it's great to be back in this all new special! 

If you're unfamiliar with Wiz War, the original series began in Pow! in 1968 and then moved over to Smash! when the two comics merged later that year. It's the story of two feuding sorcerers, Wizard Prang and Demon Druid, and was originally drawn by Mike Brown (inking Leo Baxendale's pencils on some episodes I suspect, as they did work like that on some other strips). 

Writer Kek-W, best known for his work on 2000AD, and I pitched the idea for the Wiz War revival to editor Keith Richardson last year, hoping it might be in the new Smash! Special. However, as the new Smash! contained solely fantasy heroes it wouldn't really be a good fit. I'm pleased that it'll be in Monster Fun though. A much more suitable home.

There's one panel from our new strip above. In the original strip, Wiz War was usually in black and white inside the comic, and Demon Druid had a black robe and hat. I felt that was too dreary for a full colour strip so I gave him a dark blue outfit instead. Not just any blue though! Trivia Time: Pow! never used black ink on its covers, using dark blue instead, and that's the colour I've tried to emulate for Druid's outfit.

I'm really excited to see how the Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular turns out. Kids love monsters, especially funny ones! So I hope the comic does well. Like any other business, publishing is full of uncertainties in these troubling times, so Rebellion are publishing less specials than they did last year. I'm grateful to be in one of them! You can read more about it, and the other two upcoming specials from Rebellion, at their website at this link: 


Sunday 7 February 2021

The birth of Combat Colin! (1987)

I may have shown these on my blog before but if you haven't seen them they might interest you. These are the rough sketches I first did back in 1987 in a notebook when I came up with the idea of Combat Colin... except back then he was called Rambo Johnson

As you can see, I'd originally thought of him as a kid character, then quickly dismissed that idea because that was too traditional (and boring). This was going to be for Marvel UK not IPC, so there was no need for him to be yet another kid-with-gimmick. 

Then I thought perhaps he could be a weedy-looking character (top right), at odds with his self image of being heroic? Nah, that didn't seem right either. 

Finally I had it; a big gormless looking character in a combat jacket, combat trousers... and a red bobble hat because he's daft enough to wear bright red along with the camouflage. 

I must have done a more finished drawing than this and submitted it along with some sample scripts to Marvel UK.  The name I settled on was Dimbo, a dim version of Rambo. As I've mentioned before, although Marvel liked it, they felt that being a Rambo parody would date it too quickly. Editor Steve White came up with a better name: Combat Colin! Perfect! 

Below is a scan of my original artwork for the very first Combat Colin strip. It appeared in Action Force No.5 in 1987. The strip would outlast the comic, moving over to The Transformers when the two comics merged, and continuing until the final issue in 1991. Later, when Marvel UK gave me the rights back, I revived Combat Colin for new strips including a few in digital comic Aces Weekly

As you know, a few years ago I began reprinting the whole Combat Colin saga from the start in a series of Combat Colin comics. After issue 4 I put the series on hold due to the pandemic (and an absence of comic cons where I used to promote them) but I still intend to publish issue 5 this year (and possibly the final issue, No.6, if I can). No firm plans yet but as soon as it happens I'll post news on this very blog.

Thursday 4 February 2021

Unseen Characters: NOBBY LARD (2012)

Sometimes ideas just don't work, or submitted strips aren't accepted. One case in point was Nobby Lard, a character I created in 2012. 

The client wanted a comic strip for an online betting website they ran, which was a departure from the usual areas I'd worked in. They wanted it to have a sporting theme and be about an everyday type. Not being into betting or sport this seemed a bit of a challenge but I came up with a hapless loser type who attempts different sports and fails. 

Here's the e-mail I sent, along with my sample roughs...

Hi (name redacted),

Here's my idea for the online strip. Hope you like it.

NOBBY LARD - Wannabe champion.

Nobby hasn't played a sport since he left school but according to his  
late Aunt's will, he stands to inherit a million pounds IF he becomes  
a sporting champion. That's all the incentive he needs, but it might  
take the overweight, easily distracted lump a while to achieve it.

NOBBY LARD, affable everyman type, somewhat out of condition.

BECKY LARD, Nobby's wife, who loves him but wishes he was more like  
David Haye.

Theme of strips: Nobby tries various sports with little success.  
Sometimes he can't even understand the rules. Even the thought of the  
rules tires him out some times! But he's persistent and keen...  
unless the pub's open or there's a good film on TV.

I've attached a character sheet plus three jpegs featuring six  
roughly-penciled strips to give you an idea of the type of strip I'm  
thinking about. I hope it's the sort of thing you were looking for.

Looking forward to hearing from you.



What happened next? Nothing. I have a vague memory that they got someone to do their even rougher version of it and called it something else. Either way, my concept of Nobby Lard was never developed any further. Anyway, in situations like that you just forget about it and move on. (And I had forgotten about it until I found these files tonight on an old memory stick.) 

Still, as I own the copyright I thought I'd post some of the pencil roughs here for you to see. Will Nobby Lard return as a fully drawn strip? Nah, probably not, but he's here today so I hope you enjoy him.  



Monday 1 February 2021

Preview of the next DAFT DIMENSION...

There's a new issue of Doctor Who Magazine out this week and it'll include another trip to The Daft Dimension, the regular comic strip I contribute. There's a sneak preview above.

Published by Panini UK, Doctor Who Magazine No.561 will be in shops on Thursday 4th February, and will be bagged with a new and exclusive Target book. Here's the pack to look out for...