My Thoughts on The Birmingham Comics Festival 2016

On Saturday 23rd April, 2016 Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium was transformed from a cricket fan’s paradise overflowing with knitted jumpers and test match memorabilia, into a vibrant sea of cosplayers and graphic novels as the Birmingham Comics Festival hit the venue.

The second annual Birmingham Comics Festival promised to be an outstanding convention after the success of its debut in 2015. Organisers Steve Tanner, Paul Birch and Victor Wright had their work cut out to recapture the same rampant fanfare as the previous year. It’s safe to say they outdid themselves by staging a multitude of comics-related events that started to pop up in various locations throughout the city in the lead-up to this colourful crescendo which featured some of the biggest names in the British comic book industry.

As soon as I went through the Stadium doors I was engulfed by a wave of pop-culture, make-up and costumes; a hundred Harley Quinns and Jokers buzzed around like painted bees with various collectables in their grasps.

The air vibrated with the hum of a thousand like-minded people gathered in one place to celebrate and rejoice in a unique counterculture of their very own, this was what a good con should be.

The festival offered countless things for people to sink their teeth into throughout the day, as the patrons strolled from hall to hall.

There was a wide array of panels including, ‘Classroom Comic Capers’ that discussed whether or not the humble comic has a place in education or if it should remain within the realms of entertainment and ‘Must be Something in the Water’ which cast a light on the large number of creators from the Midlands and the internationally acclaimed work they produce.

As well as the panels, there was a body painting station where highly skilled artists airbrushed mere mortals into superheroes and a cosplay competition for all those who sported a guise in Birmingham; from Caped Crusaders and Mega City Judges to a giant Lego figure, they could all be seen on the day.

For me the highlight of the event was how strongly it actually centred on comic books. It’s surprising how many so-called comic conventions are mainly focused on the cinematic side of the industry selling toys and posters from the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster; whilst the writers and artists selling their four-colour wares get overlooked.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case in Brum, as independent comic creators sat behind tables next to some of the best scribes and illustrators this side of the Atlantic; from Ian Edgington to D‘Israeli and Leigh Gallagher to Lew Stringer, Laura Howell and Hunt Emerson to name but a few.

I spent a big chunk of my day there checking out the work of those individuals and discovering other creators. I had a chance to speak to the artist behind ‘Psycho Gran’ David Leach and picked up a copy of his fantastic book ‘David Leach Conquers the Universe… So You Don’t Have to.’ I talked to the wonderful co-founder of ‘Time Bomb Comics,’ Steve Tanner and purchased his latest release ‘Flintlock,’ an anthology that will take readers from the high seas to the reign of the Highwayman. I also caught up with some more familiar faces in the form of ‘Bleeding Cool Magazine’ journalist Olly Macnamee and Alex Fitch of the ‘Panel Borders’ podcast and updated them about a new project I’m working on. Great guys.

In the course of our chat Olly introduced me to the author of ‘The Forgotten Child’ Jason Cobley another cool guy, and David Hine whose latest graphic novel ‘The Man who Laughs’ is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic that perfectly captures the spirit of the highbrow tome whilst demystifying it’s narrative.

As the day drew to a close, I dashed over to see my old pal ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Al Davison and his extremely talented protégé Yen Quach and purveyed all their art whilst Al sketched me a picture of a Victorian skeleton complete with top hat and monocle, in less than 15 minutes might I add. No sooner had I said bye to Al and Yen than I spoke to legendary ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ writer and one of my biggest influences Dan Abnett about his 2000 AD strips and an upcoming project I’m part of…

The 2016 Birmingham Comics Festival was a great event full of talented people and outstanding work that championed all that is unique and inspiring about this anarchic medium.

I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comic Book Review: ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ issue 4 by Madius Comics

Madius Comics are back with lead writers Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook at the helm, as they weave wacky words of wonder alongside a trio of incredibly talented illustrators to bring us the latest instalment of their anthology series ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ issue 4.

The first story in this comic is a tale oddly inspired by the rock band Marillion called ‘The Forebearer,’ written by Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook and illustrated by the extraordinarily skilled Madius newcomer Darren Smith.

The strip follows Hogarth, a barbarian travelling through an ancient wasteland on a blood-chilling quest for revenge.

From the opening we are transported into a realm of fallen warriors and fierce beasts by the power of Darren Smith’s pen. It would be easy to assume from the fantastical monochrome artwork and foreboding narrative that the reader will be treated to a dark fantasy adventure from the pages of a gothic poem. But the false sense of security is soon broken as the narrative is sharply injected with a dose of Madius satire.

Jones and Sambrook have pulled off a marvellous stunt in creating a story that could have easily been a standard two-dimensional fantasy yarn and enhanced it with a third dimension of humour that makes us laugh all the way to its absurd cliffhanger ending.

 

The second strip in this title ‘Fight of the Valkyrie’ is a dystopian thrill-ride from the creative minds of Jones and Sambrook with artwork by Jim Lavery.

From its first pages the post-apocalyptic story bears a striking resemblance to the movie ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and could be easily interpreted as a smart parody of the 2014 blockbuster and it’s lack of backstory.

However a less analytical reader might see it as Madius’s version of a bad-ass action comic with all the cars, motorbikes and profanity that any Vin Diesel fan could wish for. Jones and Sambrook’s irrepressible comedic timing is perfectly complemented by Jim Lavery’s outstanding art that would be at home within the pages of 2000 AD.

Whether ‘Fight of the Valkyrie’ is a delightful Mad Max pastiche or a dystopian thriller remains to be seen, but either way Sambrook, Jones and Lavery have left the reader hungry for the next instalment.

 

In the final tale of this issue the reader is thrown headfirst into the chaotically hilarious world of the ‘Profits of Doom.’

The reader catches up with the lovable group of daft druids as they plan a strategy to bring down their demonic enemy, with the help of an idiosyncratic bookshop proprietor who has a vast knowledge of black magic.

This instalment is a well-written and exquisitely drawn strip that showcases all of Madius’s unique qualities as the backstory grows. The amount of hilarious dialogue to be found in nearly every panel is consistently memorable as the plot moves forward to its next quirky arc.

The latest ‘Profits of Doom’ yarn shows that Sambrook, Jones and Smith know these characters inside out and have calculated each twist and turn within this wacky saga.

 

Congratulations to Rob Jones, Mike Sambrook and their many collaborators on creating yet another diverse issue of ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ that will continue to keep readers amused and enthralled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Ronnie Corbett

I’m truly saddened to hear about the death of Ronnie Corbett. One of the last from an elite and unforgettable number of comedians to leave this mortal realm. Whether you loved him or hated him, Ronnie Corbett was an undisputed titan of British entertainment, who alongside the late great Ronnie Barker made a genius contribution to the landscape of comedy. I grew up watching The Two Ronnies with my Grandad and the memories captured whilst viewing those iconic sketches will stay in my heart and mind forever. From ‘The Ice Cream Parlour’ sketch and ‘The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town,’ written by the legendary Spike Milligan to the immortal ‘Fork Handles’ has influenced every British comedian who has followed them directly or indirectly.

I know that the duo’s humour has influenced my writing consistently which is inescapably apparent in one of my upcoming projects. Today a nation of comedy lovers will mourn the passing of a great, but we will also be thankful for a vast body of hilarious work that we can chuckle at for generations to come.

What better way to pay tribute to Ronnie C than with one of his ingenious wandering monologues that brought us so many laughs.

I leave you with ‘The Parrot Joke’

Ronnie you will be missed…

It’s good night from me… and good night from him.

1930 – 2016

https://youtu.be/94MHFI-Cztg The Parrot Joke

Going for Gold with Gold Arts Award

Ah, dear reader how I’ve missed you. The last few weeks have flown by in a blur of ink-stained notebook pages and crisply typed emails, and to my chagrin, the blog has been deeply neglected.

In the time since a rambling last hit the virtual pages of Books, Films and Random Lunacy, I’ve been writing up coursework and collected everything I’ve created or read, as I’m studying for my Gold Arts Award. A course designed for young people aged 16 to 25 who want to extend their knowledge and practical experience in the arts. The course caters for all aspiring creatives from writers and filmmakers to dancers and musicians, offering a range of ways they can gain a deeper insight into their chosen medium. From organising arts-related events to working alongside industry professionals Gold Arts Award is a colourful training ground on which to grow creative talent. To find out more about Gold Arts Award and all the finery that comes with it follow this link.

http://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=67

This wonderful opportunity was given to me by the good folk at Writing West Midlands, an organisation that has helped me develop my writing skills through countless workshops and outlets over the past few years. Since joining one of their truly invaluable Write On! Young Writers’ Groups, they’ve supported me consistently, from my first publications to a writing mentorship program with everyone’s favourite biscuit-loving tech-scribe William Gallagher.

They’re very nice people. Here’s a link to find out more about what they do, give it a click if you so wish.

http://www.writingwestmidlands.org

 

The course has two units comprised of a multitude of assignments and exercises to challenge participants artistically and develop their leadership skills. Over the next 18 months my fellow Gold Arts Award students and I, (shout out to Lucy, Lydia and Trish) will be working with our Gold Arts Adviser Joanne Penn and The Writing West Midlands team on all of this as well as running an innovative group project that will bring about the long-awaited destruction of mankind.

No, no, I jest of course. But it will be very cool, so follow me on social media to stay updated on that.

As you can imagine, dear reader an opportunity like this takes a lot of dedication and my time will be limited and blog posts may be less frequent for a while as I explore both my creative and academic mind.

I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this and look forward to all the inspiration I can absorb and all the writing wisdom I can collect.

 

It’s going to be fun.

Wish me luck…

 

A Chat with… William Gallagher

In this instalment of A Chat With, I talk to writer and dramatist William Gallagher. William has had his work featured in many publications including, The Independent, Radio Times Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Today I converse with him about his early journalism work, his time penning scripts for The Doctor and how he filled The Blank Screen.  

 

Hello William, thank you for taking the time to have a chat with me today, but before we get into the creative stuff, could you tell the reader a bit more about yourself?

 

A bit more about myself… Well, I was doing an event at a school the other day and I asked the kids to write an article about what we’d done that afternoon. One kid wrote: ‘Today, a random, un-famous man with no dress sense came to our school.’ And I thought, yep that about covers it. I heard another good description of myself recently. I had a meeting with a friend of a friend who I’d never met before, but when I walked in she recognised me from across the coffee shop, because our mutual friend had told her to, ‘Look for a man who looks like everyone’s favourite geography teacher.’

 

You’re career is a very eclectic and diversified one, spanning across almost every facet of writing from journalism and prose to TV and radio scripts. But you must have started somewhere, what made you want to become a writer?

 

Wow, I suppose I have been around a bit. (Laughs.) But I’ve never written poetry, though I love it. Some of my biggest writing influences are poets, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, but I’ve never been able to write it.

Anyway, I guess it all started without realising it, at a time when I was reading every book I could and watching every TV programme. But I wasn’t aware that shows were written, they were just there. I distinctly recall the first time I consciously realised that something had been made; crafted for entertainment. There was this one American TV show called Lou Grant. It was all about newspapers and journalism and that’s what I wanted to do. What I loved about Lou Grant was the fact it was a very talky show, usually with one journalist interviewing one interviewee, but the writers managed to make it very different from week to week. I adored how brilliantly they made something that could have been very flat very dramatic and that’s what I liked. I love TV shows where two people are arguing in a room and they’re both right and that can only be conjured in good drama. I was obsessed with that and I wanted to write something like it.

 

 Who would you say are your biggest inspirations?

 

A gigantic inspiration for me was Alan Plater who wrote over 300 TV, radio, film and stage scripts before his death in 2010. One of my first big Journalism commissions was from The British Film Institute Magazine to interview Alan about a TV show called The Beiderbecke Affair. 20 years later the first book I wrote was about The Beiderbecke Affair and was also commissioned by the British Film Institute. It always feels like a key part of my career, alongside meeting Alan and his wife Shirley Rubinstein who became close friends.

 

I know Alan Plater as one of the writers of Z Cars among many other things. Plater truly was a legend of British screenwriting. Would you consider him a mentor, and did you pick up any advice or writing know-how from him that you could share with the reader?

 

I feel slightly grandiose calling him a mentor; he worked with lots of people more closely than me, but he did have a big impact on me. He had a particular style… Critics who didn’t like Alan Plater said that nothing happened in his writing which in a way is true, as far as in an Alan Plater script you are with some characters who you really like for a while and then suddenly it’s over. But in every script he takes you somewhere, moves you along and involves you in the story, he does masses of things but in such a subtle way. He’s not a showy writer, he came to prominence around the same time as Dennis Potter whose writing was more, well, loud I suppose. I preferred Alan’s work because he wrote about people’s lives, what they were doing and their personalities. I’m nowhere near that but it’s what I aspire to do.

I vividly remember sitting around Alan and Shirley’s table having dinner with them and talking about a new script I was working on. I was young and I believed plot was everything. I’d worked out this really intricate plot that I was discussing with Alan. He told me he didn’t care about plot, all that mattered to him were the characters, and I can remember really disagreeing with him. I tried to defend my plot, and all he said was: ‘It’s not compulsory,’ which is actually a recurring line from the Beiderbecke series. He said that if the characters are good enough the plot will build itself around them. His comments stung, but it was that stinging that got me started on the path I’m on now. I too don’t care about plot, for this reason, I’m really into dialogue. I have to believe that characters in movies or television shows I watch are three-dimensional and what they’re saying is real. If I don’t believe in what the characters are saying and I feel that the writer is using them as a tool to tell me something, I am thrown out of the story and I couldn’t care less what happens to them. But if the dialogue is authentic enough and I’m not thrown out of the story, then I’m a fan.

 

You’ve also worked for the British institution that is Radio Times Magazine, what was it like writing for that publication? And can you impart any nuggets of journalistic wisdom from your time there?

 

I started as a freelance writer for the (Radio Times) website and due to complications with the budget they asked me to go on staff, but only for a couple of days a week. In reality though, between writing for the website and articles for the magazine I was fully employed by the Radio Times. I don’t really have any nuggets of wisdom to share only because I had no interest in pursuing that career path and soon moved on. What I can tell you though, is that I thought I knew television brilliantly, I was quite cocky about that.

I can remember sitting in the first editorial meeting and looking around at all these perfectly nice, normal people who knew so much more than I did. I found it impressive, daunting, sobering and quite thrilling actually.

We have a mutual love of classic TV, did your borderline-encyclopedic knowledge of classic small screen drama come in useful while you were at Radio Times?

 

It did, while I was there I covered a slot called On this Day, about what happened on that particular day in television history. I spent a phenomenal amount of time going through the archives and old issues of the Radio Times. I adored finding something that we now know was extremely significant but wasn’t considered important at the time, and I find that juxtaposition riveting.

 

One of the things your best known for is writing Doctor Who radio plays for Big Finish. How did that all start for you? Tell us about your experiences writing for the Time Lord.

 

I adore writing the Doctor Who scripts, but I am the smallest cog in the Big Finish machine. I’ve written four (radio plays) for them so far and I hope to continue doing them forever. What I can say is that it was a long process getting involved. When I was working for Radio Times they had a sister title called Doctor Who Adventures, they wanted me to cover write for somebody on that publication who was on holiday for a week and that’s where it all began. You can’t see the words Doctor Who and Radio Times in the same sentence without realising that I’m a radio drama nut, so they put me together with Big Finish. About two years later they replied to my email and basically said: ‘Remember that idea you had? Are you still up for doing it?’

I tried to play it cool but I ended up saying, ‘Yes, hello, it’s me of course I would.’

 

You’ve written for Colin Baker’s and most recently Peter Davison’s Doctor in an episode entitled Doing Time that recently premiered on Radio 4 Extra. What was it like meeting those people in the flesh, were you star struck at all?

 

The Doing Time episode was my first on radio four extra that premiered this year (2015) but it was the first Doctor Who script I wrote back in 2010 so it was a crucial half-hour for me.

I was fine with meeting Peter (Davison,) after all, I’m cool, professional, a journalist, do this all the time. (laughs) but just as I was about to shake his hand Sarah Sutton walked by who played Nysa (the Doctor’s assistant) who I am not ashamed to say I had a huge crush on. And I swear Peter backed away from me a little at that moment

 

Now let’s talk about your acclaimed book series The Blank Screen, a comprehensive handbook for writers and creators, filled with advise to help increase productivity in the creative process and get the most out of your kettle. The books have not only spawned a blog, but a franchise of successful workshops based around the advise within them. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t discovered your extraordinary books, so how did The Blank Screen get filled?

 

A few years ago I had so much going on, I was writing this massive, massive, MASSIVE book, about 170,000 words long. A Doctor Who deadline came in early and I was working on a stage play as well. I had to produce 10,000 words of good, comprehensible writing every day to meet the deadlines and I thought, ‘If there was a book to tell you how to cope with this I’d buy it.’

I was thinking about it on the bus over to my Mum’s house and by the time I’d got to my stop I’d written the first 1000 words. I emailed it to my wife Angela on my iPad and she emailed me back and said, ‘Where is the rest of it?’

 

At its heart it’s a book about productivity for creative people, time management with the objective of giving you as much time to create as possible. Every writer has that one novel or script they’d love to write but they don’t have time. Bugger that, you do have time, and this book will help you make time.

As I was writing the first book, Writing West Midlands asked if I could craft a workshop around the concept for the Birmingham Literature Festival that year, (2013) so I self-published it in order to have a finished book to show people at the event, and it snowballed from there. I’ve now done countless Blank Screen workshops all over the country and I’ve realised that all creatives from musicians to journalists have subtly different needs from the workshops, and that’s how the blog got started. As a place to share the new techniques I’ve learned from people, as well as what they’ve learned from attending the events. The third book, The Blank Screen: Blogging has recently been released, so it’s all become a little beast in itself really.

 

It’s been wonderful talking to you William. Thanks for abandoning your keyboard for a while to indulge in some Books, Films and Random Lunacy.

 

Thanks for having me. Now when do we get to talk about what you’re writing, hmmm?

 

To find out more about William, keep up to date with the latest articles on The Blank Screen and read William’s weekly blog Self Distract click this link http://williamgallagher.com

If you wish to improve your productivity, create and run your own blog or just have a good laugh. Check out the links to all three volumes of The Blank Screen books below.

Get your copy of The Blank Screen here

Get your copy of Filling The Blank Screen here

Get your copy of The Blank Screen: Blogging here

 

Thanks to Leanne Ashford for helping transcribe this eccentric natter between two tea-swigging writers into something coherent.

To be You

To be You, brought forth into a world of endless possibilities and opportunities, where ambitions once thought impossible burst into reality with each passing day. To see inventions previously dreamt of in fictional works become mankind’s commodities as humanity’s vision expands.

To be born in an era of constant evolution and grow with every ingenious advance; to see the glory of tomorrow’s wonders as they spring to life and witness a changing world through the virtue of Your eyes.

To have such a bright future and so much greatness in store, and yet to remain impervious to it all, as only wonderful things fill Your dreams.

To bask in the blessing of an innocent mind unburdened by the weight of knowledge; to be aware of so little but remain so far from ignorance, as the seeds of Your intelligence are watered and Your imagination blooms.

To know nothing of pain and suffering and be unaffected by lies; to never have felt the anguish of loss and be unhurt by the agony of broken promises.

To think of what You will accomplish and all your achievements to come. To imagine how Your personality shall grow and how the triumphs and losses of this world will shape Your resolve as You become the person You are destined to be.

To only have the powers to bestow the details of Your future endeavours upon You and put You on the road to Your dreams. To know what path You will go down and the direction in which You will travel, but wherever the universe may guide You, remember no-one but You can determine Your fate.

To have Your whole life before You and all the happiness and laughter ahead; To think of all the love that You’ll bring and receive and the multitude of beautiful experiences You’re yet to encounter.

To be You my friend, with Your gift of new life in this time of innovation and change; to have Your pure soul and this world in Your tiny hands, and with good luck and hard work You can make this world a better place.

For Eloise Rose Ashford

Born: 26 -1 – 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Books, Films and Random Lunacy

It’s been a year to this very day since the launch of Books, Films and Random Lunacy, a period of time that has felt as brief as it has remarkable. When I first clicked the button and my blog went live, I didn’t know if it would find an audience; or be seen by a living soul for that matter. My only concern at that early stage was crafting a vessel in which I could house my writing. An online realm to share a few of my short stories and prose pieces, as well as improve my journalistic work such as reviews and articles, with the goal of creating an eclectic and imaginative body of work. Beyond that my expectations were modest. Like every determined and hungry wordsmith, I hoped it would take off, become a springboard that would propel me toward bigger opportunities, but my primary endeavour was to hone my skills. When I began to create my first tales and ramblings, I had nothing more than my imagination, and an outstanding piece of artwork by my genius friend The Astral Gypsy to offer to the gods of writing. With these debut blog posts in my virtual grasp, I cast them forth into the universe and tentatively awaited the verdict.

As the stats started to rise and a modest yet hungry social media following began to accumulate, I lowered my head to the keyboard and hammered away.

I write all my pieces from a small pet-ladened dwelling in Warwickshire, and it still baffles me when something I’ve written is read somewhere as far away as Canada or Kenya. It’s truly incredible how interactive our world has become with the advent of the Internet; it’s fantastic to think how many people we can reach and converse with via our computers and Smartphones. Thanks to this, Random Lunacy has become a universal language.

These last twelve months have been wonderful, I’ve gained commissions and publications, met and worked with many extremely talented people and come face-to-face with some of my biggest inspirations who have bestowed life-changing advice upon me.

So many people have supported me and aided my creative growth over the past year; forgive this indulgent moment as I thank but a few…

Thanks to ‘The Master of Young Adult Horror’ Darren Shan for giving me the opportunity to review an advanced copy of ‘Sunburn’ and for being the subject of my very first professional interview.

Thanks to my fellow writer and good pal David Court for supporting this blog from its humble beginnings.

Ta very much to my tea-chugging mentor and all-round nice chap William Gallagher for all his generous support, time and guidance. Couldn’t have done it without you my good man.

Thanks a lot to everybody at Writing West Midlands for all the opportunities they’ve gifted me and for constantly encouraging me to challenge myself artistically.

Thank you to my friends, from across the pond: writer and podcast personality Darrel Smith for his feedback, support and for giving my work a platform on The MailMan’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy. Big up John and Brandon from the Games and Graphics podcast. All the best you guys.

Thanks to Rees Finlay, it was a true pleasure to be a part of The Indie Project Magazine.

Thank you to my friends Al and Maggie Davison, to Al especially, for the mind-blowing Shakespearian skeleton that sits scratching away with its quill at the head of this page.

Most importantly though, thank you dear reader. Yes, YOU. None of this would be possible without your good self. If you didn’t take the time to visually consume this very sentence, I wouldn’t be doing this. I truly appreciate it, you’re the best.

Expect more random lunacy as 2016 rolls on.