For the last few months I have had a project secretly coming together, something to look forward to as I laboured on the third year of my degree apprenticeship. I have enjoyed being a guest on other people’s podcasts but it has left me with a desire to do more. So it was only natural to start thinking about my own podcast series. Now episode one has been released on the Anchor platform and Spotify, and hopefully will gradually be made available on other sources too soon.
Very British Futures is a celebration of lesser known science fiction television series which Britain has produced over the years. I felt that there already enough excellent series and websites covering Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Red Dwarf, The Prisoner, Quatermass and Supermarionation but there was a niche for talking about some of the less well-remembered productions. So each episode, some special guests and myself will be looking back at a different show, critiquing it and putting it into context of the history of SF. There’ll certainly be humour but the emphasis will be on appreciation rather than mockery.
1961’s Pathfinders in Space trilogy seemed a great place to start. It’s not the first British SF series by any means but it feels like the beginning of a new era of modern television. Its place as the precursor of Doctor Who means it is influential but at the same time it is not nearly as well known as it should be. Plus I knew from conversation that Nigel Anderson and Brian Clarke would be happy to talk about it and both were at ease in front of a microphone. We had already recorded several podcasts about missing Doctor Who episodes, for Nigel, and I also appeared in a video discussing the Daleks which Nigel had produced. Whilst being together in a room to record would have been pleasant, Skype’s audio quality was acceptable for a simple conversation.
It’s been good to go back to a little light audio production. Making a podcast is a lot simpler than an audio drama. Most of the work is editing the original Skype recording, applying some noise reduction, getting rid of mistakes or sections where the conversation went too far off-topic, then bookending it with music. My biggest problem has been learning to use a headset properly, being more use to a microphone on a stand or a dictaphone. I turned to my friend Chatri Ahpornsiri, who I’ve worked with on previous audio dramas, to provide the theme music and he generously provided four versions to choose from. You can hear more of his marvellous work at chatriart.bandcamp.com. There are several free to use platforms for hosting podcasts. I felt Anchor was the easiest to use and I was attracted by the way it automated posting my series on most of the major podcast outlets.
You can listen to the series at https://anchor.fm/gareth-preston but unfortunately you cannot download the episode easily from there. Whilst I’d prefer it if people streamed it from here or one of the other platforms for the sake of the show’s stats, I appreciate that some people would like the option to download the MP3 file for portable listening. So you can find episode one below:
At the moment I am editing the second episode, in which Rebecca Wray, Kevin Hiley and myself talk about Knights of God. After that there are plans to make episodes about: The Tripods, Star Maidens, The Uninvited and after that I have a long list of possible candidates, and plenty of guests I am hoping to record with. Would love you to have a listen and hear back from you, what you think and what shows you would like to be covered.
It’s time to take care of a little unfinished business. Back in 2020 I was kindly invited by Dylan Rees onto the podcast Doctor Who – Too Hot for TVto discuss the legendary TV21 Dalek comic strip. I was in the process of moving house at the time so my own copy of the strips and other related books were locked away in storage, so I had to rely on my memories and the internet for details. It all worked out in the end I think Dylan and I created a fun episode. However there was one story which neither of us could remember a single detail about. It has variously been listed by fan sites as The Emissaries of Jevo or The Seeds of Arides (the comic strip had no individual chapter titles) and ran between issues 90 and 95.
As the supposed guest expert on the show, this has irked me since and Panini’s recent restored release of the TV21 comic series in a glorious new edition last November 2020 has given me a chance to upgrade my collection and refresh my memory.
This is certainly the definitive reprint of the British classic comic strip. Thanks to Gerry Anderson’s own archive and contributions from collectors, many of the original artboards have been digitally scanned, supplemented by scans from the best surviving issues of TV21. Digital technology and printing is now at a stage where these 104 pages not only look as good as they did coming off the printing press in 1965, but it in fact often better. Bight colours zing, and the skilled draughtsmanship of Richard Jennings, Eric Eden and Ron Turner looks sharp and detailed. Well presented in bookazine format on quality paper and supported by some excellent archive articles, this is for my money the best Doctor Who publication of 2020.
The Emissaries of Jevo was wholly illustrated by Ron Turner and written David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s script editor who wrote the large majority of the strip, with supplemented help from Angus Allen. The spacecraft “Guardian” and its crew from the planet Jevo is despatched on a secret mission to Arides to destroy a mutated species of plants. The flowers, infamous for their pollen which destroys all rival organic life, have mutated to gigantic size and now threaten to poison the galaxy. Unfortunately the ship is captured by the Daleks, who are quite happy for these flowers to unleash galactic genocide. Through a ruse, Captain Kerid persuades the Dalek Emperor that Daleks are vulnerable to the seeds too and his ship is released. When the Daleks discover the trick, they pursue the Jevonians, who heroically choose to complete their mission, even though it means certain extermination.
Despite its silly premise about mutant space pollen, this is a typically good example of the strip. Whittaker had developed a general rule that when the Daleks faced human looking opponents they would always lose, but in this story that guideline is cleverly bent. Although the Daleks destroy the Jevonians, it is an empty victory since the the flowers are destroyed and even the Emperor has a moment of doubt about whether they can ever truly conquer the human spirit. Curiously the crew of the good ship “Guardian” are described throughout as androids, yet this has no bearing on the story at all. We do not learn if all Jevonians are androids or just their astronauts, we never see them use any robot abilities and the crew certainly seem to have a full range of emotions. Kirid and his second in command even have a violent argument that ends with Kirid punching his subordinate in the face.
In good piece of continuity, the Daleks used a magnetrap to capture the spacecraft, just as they had used on Robot 2K a few weeks earlier. As was discussed on the podcast, magnetism is something of go-to for Whittaker whenever it comes to Dalek science, possibly because it was a bit of science that most schoolchildren would have learnt about. The Emperor voices a chilling piece of Dalek philosophy too. When Kirid tells him the apocalyptic threat posed by the seeds, the Emperor replies “Daleks are not android, human or animal. Why should we prevent these plants achieving what we are dedicated to achieve…?”
Ron Turner’s artwork is as splendid as ever. “Guardian” is quintessential Turner design. Loosely based on the Bluebird jet plane, its a riot of fins, flanges and intakes. The Daleks meanwhile are piloting claw-like space fighters that look impressive in action. Explosions are another Turner speciality and this story has some particularly good examples, my favourite being a Dalek scientist being ripped apart by an exploding gun.
In his introduction, editor Marcus Hearn describes the comic strip as the most enduring artefact of Sixties Dalekmania and I would agree. Their influence on the programme goes right up to the present day with the recent Dalek YouTube series and the visuals of Dalek saucers and armies in the 21st century series, clearly show the echo the comic. Even the fabulous look of the modern bronze Daleks has something of a Ron Turner feel to it. All the strips are exciting and accessible, but the best of them have depth too, as expanding that Dalek empire we heard about but the series could never afford to show us.
The Daleks is available to order from panini.co.uk, priced £9.99.
This first statement can be read as a symptom of age. My inner dad coming out. But its fair to say that it is quite rare for something genuinely innovative to appear. So much that people think is new and daring has often been done before. Take characters being meta-textual, self aware of the format they inhabit. Long before Fleabag was giving conspiratorial glances to the camera, or Gurney Slade worried about only having 25 minutes of existence left in his final episode, the Marx Brothers were bringing the audience into the artificiality of their adventures. Back in the 18th century, Lawrence Sterne was redefining what a novel could be with the tragicomic diversions of Tristram Shandy, and he in his turn was drawing on the Baroque poets of the previous century. All artists are standing on somebody else’s shoulders.
The Strange World of Gurney Slade has antecedents in The Goons, James Thurber’s humorous stories, Hancock’s Half Hour and Anthony Newley’s previous television shows. Nevertheless, in 1960, when the television sitcom was still inventing itself, there was nothing quite like it on the small screen, a fact that would ultimately doom it to cultdom rather than mainstream success. It’s a lazy cliché to say that some creative endeavour defies description. Besides which, I do have a few adjectives to describe these six episodes: odd, amusing, inconstant, clever, and a little too often – rather smug.
The debut episode opens with the start of an unimpressive domestic sitcom about a working class family: harassed wife, cheeky kids, interfering mother-in-law and boring neighbours inviting themselves in. In the midst of it all and already clearly distancing himself is the man of the house – Gurney Slade (played by Anthony Newley). When it comes to his first banal line of dialogue, Gurney can’t take it anymore and walks off the set, past the floor manager, and out into what seems at first to be the real world but in fact is a fantasy created by his imagination, mixing mundane backgrounds with characters such as talking rubbish bins, conversational dogs and advertising posters which come to life. At this point we could be watching an actor’s nervous breakdown from the inside, but the programme never explores that bleak reading, even if it never contradicts it either. It prefers instead to suggest that we are joining the protagonist in “Gurneyland”, as he describes it in the fifth episode. That’s about it as far as the overall story is concerned. Gurney, virtually free of all commitments, wanders along musing about modern life and going on flights of fancy. The first three episodes are much more free form, almost like an illustrated stand-up routine. However the second half becomes slightly more narrative driven. Gurney is put on trial for producing an unfunny comedy show, has to venture inside his own mind to deal with some squatters, and finally is challenged to take responsibility for the characters he has imagined over the previous episodes.
Anthony Newley created the series alongside Sid Green and Dick Hills, at the time two of the most in-demand comedy writers in British television. It is a definitely a young man’s view of the world. Our hero often runs up against older men who are stuffy, hypocritical or unreliable authority figures. A politician who is only concerned with his young mistress, or a music hall bore of a comedian trading in ancient jokes. Meanwhile women remain resolutely two-dimensional, mostly unobtainable objects of desire, reflecting perhaps Gurney’s admitted failures to make any meaningful connections with girls. Mention ought to be made though of Joy Stewart, who has a reoccurring role as a stereotypical suburban wife/mother, who is involved with some of the most likeable sequences, remaining resolutely domestically minded throughout. In that she is a symptom of what stops this series really striking home. All the characters are cartoonish stereotypes aside from Gurney. What’s more, the show actually congratulates itself on being too clever for the average viewer. So there is a hint of Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t find this funny? You’re obviously not sophisticated enough.
Ostensibly a comedy series, it’s never laugh out loud funny but more endearingly whimsical. Moments that made me smile tend to involve the talking objects, such as the farmyard dog who regards the farmer and his employees as part of the livestock, or a bin which likes the read the newspapers that are thrown into it. Elsewhere in a moment of dark humour, Gurney helps a couple of children to assemble their perfect mother from a collection of female mannequin parts left on a tip. There’s some funny daft jokes too. Examining the control room inside his imagination, Gurney is glad to see “At least it’s a clean mind.” Later on in the same episode there some amusing physical comedy as he is trying to giving a speech whilst fending off an invisible elephant, which eventually picks him up in its trunk.
The monologues are less successful, coming off as sub-Galton and Simpson material. I could imagine Tony Hancock or Harold Steptoe delivering Gurney’s sour comments on an actor fronting an advertising campaign for screws, or imagining how much easier his life could be if he could simply choose his wife from a army style line-up. But in Newley’s hands they become selfish whinges rather than amusingly pompous. I generally enjoyed the show more when a little more storyline comes into it.
There are some fine meta-jokes in the final part, just the kind of comedy which Wandavision is currently being hailed for. The prosecutor from the trial episode returns and complains that all he knows how to do is aggressively prosecute. “Suppose I’m hungry? How do I order a meal in restaurant?” In a self-flagellating moment, the girl of his dreams from episode two, played by Anneke Wills who was 17 and having relationship with Newley in real life, is shocked when she finds out the age gap between them. But too often Gurney’s jokes about his failings seem more design to invite admiration for his clear-sightedness, rather than humility.
Director Alan Tarrant makes a real virtue of the its monochrome production. The photography is crisp, the outdoor filming is mobile and dynamic, the more stagey looking later episodes have been thoughtfully designed too and in places anticipate where Doctor Who and The Prisoner are going to go in a few years time. It was one of Tarrant’s first directing jobs and sadly for us, he never produced anything as unconventional again, but would go on to a long and successful career in ITV light entertainment and sitcoms.
For viewers interested in the more fanciful British comedy of Python, The Goodies and The League of Gentlemen, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is a fascinating artefact. It rarely made me laugh but it does stay in the memory and at six episodes it feels perfectly formed. If Newley, Green and Hills wanted to make a singular show, they did succeed, but they should not have given themselves a round of applause for doing so.
Thanks to Network, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is available on DVD, which also contains trailers and photos, and a limited edition Blu-ray containing many more features and Anthony Newley’s contemporary film The Small World of Sammy Lee.
That sounds like quite a Christmassy sort of heading doesn’t it? But in fact this post is really belongs in Halloweentown because it concerns a tale of vampirism. I’ve mentioned before that around the turn of the century I was involved with the now defunct timelord.co.uk, which was for a while quite a hotbed of creativity, producing fan fiction writing, videos and audios including Deconstruction. Not surprisingly several of us wanted to movie into original fiction, and one of those projects was a trilogy of audio short stories called Monsters, produced by myself. I put out the call for contributions and three worthwhile stories were sent to me – Blue, Monster’s Bar and When the Bells Ring Out. I then put out a call for readers from the online voice acting community. The three tales were uploaded to the old Phantom Frame website, moved to the Westlake Films site for little, and were also released on a double CD, but they have long been unavailable.
Recently a friend of mine James Leeper told me he was keen to hear “that vampire story” again and encouraged me to dive into my collection of old backup DVDs and find the master copy.
So here it is, a modern day vampire story, written by the talented Mark Ritchie and performed by Steven Anderson, with music by Dave Holmes. “Police detective Steve loves movies about vampires, but even he can’t believe it when his latest murder case seems to point to a real life undead murderer.”
Lockdown has not been kind to theatres or indeed creative groups of any discipline. Overcoming restrictions however can be its own kind of inspiration and this month saw the release online of my most ambitious video in quite a while.
To give credit where it is due, Stages in Waiting (working title – BLT Lockdown Podcast) was initially conceived and written by Peter Scofield, the actor and director who I’ve worked with quite a bit over the years, both as a co-star and behind the scenes. When ideas were being thrown around the committee for what kind of videos Bolton Little Theatre could make, monologues were the obvious answer and the Life Bites series grew from that. However from the beginning Peter liked the idea of performing something bigger. He written quite a lot of humorous poetry over the years and he had the idea of a short video anthology, filmed on location in the environs of Bolton Little Theatre. As well as Peter’s words, there would be a bit of Shakespeare and some public domain songs too. Initially there was talk of a live streaming broadcast followed by an edited version on demand. Ultimately, the project was scaled back to an on demand video, due to the complexities, challenging enough under normal conditions.
The idea of filming actors separately was always there, to make it easier to film in restricted C19 conditions, but originally the cast would gather together on stage for the final number. We had an initial meeting and set a recording date in late August. Then Bolton entered a local lockdown and the general feeling among the participants was it was too risky. Government advice waxed and waned, I was preoccupied by my house move, and suddenly we were halfway through October. Peter, Sandra and I had the feeling that if the film wasn’t made soon it might never be, now that winter was setting in, Christmas was on peoples’ minds and the theatre hoping to re-open in the New Year. So a revised production was put into action, now wholly made up of single performers who would only meet in Adobe Premiere. We agreed new dates and Sandra Leatherbarrow organised the rota of actors who would come to the theatre over two evenings. Then in the preceding weekend, Boris announced Lockdown 2, beginning right in the middle of our schedule! Nevertheless we decided to push ahead, even though this meant some last minute cast changes. Including a surprise cameo from myself.
If that wasn’t enough, I also decided to make this film with a new kind of camera I had only recently obtained – a DSLR (Canon EOS60D to be precise). I had seen that many other filmmaking acquaintances of mine had been using DSLR cameras instead of camcorders for years, now that they could record HD video. DSLR’s offer the benefits of customisation, better lenses and a socket for an external microphone, something basic that nevertheless a lot of camcorders in model’s price range seemed to lack. My first attempts at filming were somewhat blurry but I had learnt more and now was fairly confident I could get some decent material. I think the results speak for themselves. I’ve still more to learn, but Stages in Waiting is my best looking personal film yet. Rich colours, and between my two lenses, some depth of field shots I’ve never tried before. I’m now fully converted to the DSLR cause, at least as far as tripod filming is concerned. My camcorder is still superior for moving hand held shots.
My direction was light, confined to just encouraging one or two to be a bit ‘bigger’ in their delivery. My cast were all experienced performers so I could concentrate on the shots and just listen out for fluffs. Considering nobody acted with anyone else, their performances meshed together magically well in the digital cutting room. Released on Saturday 21st November on Bolton Little Theatre’s YouTube channel, the response so far has been gratifying positive. I’m proud of Life Bites too, but Stages in Waiting is just a bit more unique than I’ve seen any other local group do. I hope you enjoy it too if you watch it.
I love Grumpy best of all the dwarves! He is initially suspicious of the stranger in the house, but gradually warms up to her. She offends him by laughing at him occasionally, but she mainly shows him kindness. She even makes him a special pie with his name on. When Snow White is threatened, Grumpy leaps into action.
The world could be a better place if we all listened to that small voice inside us. Jiminy finds that his best efforts aren’t always appreciated and sometimes thinks that Pinocchio is not worth the trouble, but his loyalty always wins out. He saves Pinocchio from being turned into a donkey. (Assume makes an ass of you and me.) “Pinocchio” is one of my favourite animated films, although it carries the dreadful message that justice is not always done. That is true of life though and everybody has to learn that lesson. Life is not always fair or kind, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t try to change that.
[the elephants think that Dumbo with his big ears is the reason Mrs. Jumbo has been locked up]
Timothy Q. Mouse: What’s the matter with his ears? I don’t see nothin’ wrong with ’em. I think they’re cute.
“Dumbo” is a difficult film to watch, especially in modern times, but the character is adorable! While most of the cast jeer, Timothy and Mrs. Jumbo are his stout defenders. After Timothy shames them, the crows also become useful allies, supplying the magic feather. Timothy aids Dumbo to realise that he can fly on his own. It is a worrying sign of the times that some people would censor this film and while I can empathise with their reasons, I, personally, am not offended. The past remains the past and we should learn from it; not keep apologising. If we’re not careful, book burning will come back and that will be terrible. (Don’t get me started on electronic books!)
Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?
Thumper: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.
Out of the mouths of young rabbits, children and autistics! I often remember this lesson. Honesty is a minefield. Autistics value it and I am certain it ought to be one of our strengths. However, we learn the hard way that honesty is not always valued by the rest of humanity. Non-autistics have a complex code of conduct, so sometimes it is wiser just to keep one’s thoughts to oneself. I am uncertain why I find it so difficult to speak. The fact that I can speak, but not necessarily all the time, if a source of vexation to everybody, including me. Anxiety is the root cause, but could I have “selective mutism” or is it a “shield” to protect myself? I seem to get into trouble for speaking and also for not speaking. I really don’t understand why the proof of someone’s intelligence or worth seems to rest on them speaking. I can express myself well by writing. I can identify writing as a strength. People compliment me on my writing. If you have the good fortune (or misfortune) to meet me in person though, you will be baffled by the extreme “awkwardness” that will soon arise. It can be like trying to “squeeze blood from a stone”; although my mum can confirm that I do have the ability to “talk the hindleg off a donkey”, but only to her. I have not mastered the skills of two-way conversation, which is why you need to display patience. Being on the autistic spectrum means that I have a “communication disability”, so expecting me to communicate at your level is surely too big an ask? Autistics need allies. You can be an ally by listening to me and to other autistics. I am convinced that bridges can be built, but it requires both sides to be responsible. Communication requires a minimum of TWO participants. It is not MY problem; it is OUR solution. Accept that we are both going to be uncomfortable and we shall go from there. I’ll BELIEVE in you; you’ll BELIEVE in me. Let’s solve this together.
A few months ago you may have read here that I guest edited an online issue of Worktown Words for my old friends over at Live from Worktown. It was a new experience for me, curating a month of poetry submissions, all on my chosen theme of Celebration. The standard of entries was genuinely high. My thanks to editor Paul Blackburn for inviting me and his help.
Now a selection of the best of the first ten issues has been released in paperback form and I received my contributors copy a couple of days ago. Two poems come from my issue and they are both stormers – Magician on the Podium by Rosie Adamson-Clark, and My Human Brain by David Bateman. Dipping into it I’m impressed once again by the quality of the pieces. It’s full of emotion and ingenuity. Other highlights I have discovered include No Shock by Shaun Fellows about a notorious political figure and Freedom by Donna Hughes, a tale of meeting a Scottish salmon. The other themes during this first ‘season’ of books have been: Spring, Joker, Horizon, Escape, Shock, Silence, Stranger, Heritage and Tear.
Keep looking for opportunities they say. With no chance of Bolton Little Theater or indeed anyone else’s theaters opening for business anytime soon, creatives are turning to the internet to tell stories and keep connected with their audience. Quite a few local theaters and film-making groups have ventured into monologues, with their obvious advantage of combining lockdown friendly simplicity with potentially great acting and writing. After all, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is considered a drama benchmark. Not that I am presenting BLT’s own contribution to the genre as anything like on that level, but it is a versatile format and I hope our Life Bites are going to exploit it.
I was first approached in August with the idea of making short videos for Bolton Little Theater by Carol Butler, who has joined me as producer on this series. She had noticed several of our rivals were already producing them and felt our group was getting left behind. So we proposed the idea to the committee and it was accepted, along with plans for a larger group video filmed at the theater called Stages in Waiting and a short excerpt from ‘Allo ‘Allo, the play we would have been producing in September. Sandra Leatherbarrow suggested the title of Life Bites and it felt right immediately to me. My next act was to set up a dedicated YouTube account and create an animated ident out of the theatre’s logo. A simple coming together of the front symbol and the background coloured square.
Like me, Carol is a writer and performer and had recently been compiling her stories and poems into a forthcoming anthology. She drew on one of these comic stories for the first instalment and recorded it on her smartphone in an impressive feat of learning unknown technology. All I had to do was create the title sequence. I was influenced by the old BBC Play for Today credits from the Seventies. Since these monologues are likely to be all close-ups of performers, I did my best to find photos from old BLT productions which were a good close up of an interesting face and it was actually quite hard to find suitable images in my library. However I persevered and found enough to make the right length of montage, shuffling the actors around to find the best mix. The music was from YouTube’s copyright free music library. Why invite trouble?
Carol’s Pink Fluffy Handcuffs went down really well and has easily been the most successful episode so far. It was followed by Gig 13, Dean Lane’s comic tale of a nightmare gig, not drawn from his own musical career but inspired by it. Dean is an excellent storyteller as well as songwriter. Then there was lull.
After several busy weekends, I finally had time to venture into the local parkland and find a secluded spot to record my entry Helpline. I originally wrote this for the Octagon Theater’s 2014 Best of Bolton evening for local writers, where it was performed by Hylton Collins, before he became a regular on Emmerdale as Tubby Dingle. The idea was one of those that just came into my head and doesn’t have a defined origin. I was just trying to think of a quick story that would fit on a single page. For this video I revised it a bit further, making it a little punchier and adding a contemporary joke. In the end the version I filmed was a little improvised, using the script as a guide because I had not given myself enough time to learn it word perfect. I quite enjoyed editing it, adding a blue filter, some digital distortion, creating an animated message card and filtering the dialogue to give it that monitor quality. Now its out there and I would love you take a look at one of first bits of personal filmmaking I have done in quite a while.
Horror and childhood are closely linked. Not just because we are having the formative experiences that future storytellers will be tapping into for the rest of our lives, but because children are paradoxically one of the major markets for terror filled merchandise. Halloween is around the corner and the supermarkets are full of gaping mouthed zombies, scowling skeletons and howling ghosts, all aimed at the family market. Plenty of toy franchises have their share of monsters. Harry Potter is infused with fairytale gothic. Nineties children made Goosebumps a phenomena. Eighties kids could enjoy Freddy Kruger replica gloves and dolls. But I’m a child of the Seventies and let me tell you we had some messed up merchandise aimed at us, material which somehow seemed a lot closer to the horror aimed at the supposed adult end of the market. Writers and artists on comics like Misty, Scream and 2000AD deliberately tried to get away with as much as they could when it comes to disturbing stories and illustrating them. Children’s television drew from the visual language of Hammer and its rivals. Even the public information films wanted to scare us. Merchandise like the infamous Aurora horror model kits, including one of a screaming girl known only as The Victim! Whilst at school we were playing Top Trumps, which included two marvellous Horror sets. Now Rik Hoskin, Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri have paid homage to these inspired games with their very own Horror Hot Trumps.
The original Horror and Horror 2 sets were distinguished by wonderfully lurid artwork printed in bright four-colour comic strip style. Blood spurted from victims as monsters attacked them. Everything rendered with dark dramatic inks, the artwork could be ugly, but that was part of its energy. They were recently reprinted by Winning Moves in new retro editions. Just in case you have not come across them, it’s a simple card game where players draw a card, compare stats and player with the highest value wins the round and the other’s cards. Eventually the winner owns all the cards, although in practice when a game dragged on and we got bored, a majority was accepted. Aircraft, football players, motorcycles were typical subjects. Now with these set we could compare the merits of the Madman (killing power 69) against The Living Skull (killing power 63) or The Sorcerer (killing power 72). But Top Trumps had a secret weapon of collectibility. Long before Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, its maker knew enjoyment came as much from flipping through a pack to read their info. For a generation of young fear fans raised on Saturday night TV double bills, and Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, we loved the artwork, not least because we could often recognise the famous publicity stills which the artist had cribbed from. For a Doctor Who fan like myself there was the bonus of seeing a Sea Devil carrying a blood drenched axe, here renamed Venusian Death Cell, or a Daemon now employed as a Fire Demon.
Hot Trumps is labour of love by Rik Hoskin, multi-media writer and no stranger to this blog, and comic strip artists Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri. I received a promo pack of Horror this weekend and I love them. Designed to played in their own right or mixed in with the Top Trumps originals, they perfectly capture the gleeful, gory style and humour of the Seventies cards. Amongst my favourites in this set are Martian Machine (horror power 90), Raw Rex (Fright Factor 80) and Dracula’s Daughter (Physical Strength 69).
If you would like a set of your own, the team will be unleashing a Kickstarter very soon. You can find out more by visiting their new website http://hottrumps.com/ and joining the mailing list.
Rik’s having a busy month, not least because he’s still been on the publicity trail for his new novel Bystander 27. He’s written articles for The Nerd Daily and File 770. He’s been interviewed by Roni Gosch for the Litcast of Doom podcast about his marvellous tribute to the Silver Age of comics.
Perhaps most impressively he’s now on YouTube, in conversation with Pierce Brown, author of the New York Times bestselling Red Rising SF series. Talking about Rik’s Bystander 27, and their collaboration on the Red Rising: Sons of Ares comic book series, as well as taking questions from the audience. Enjoy. It was organised by publishers Angry Robot. And read Bystander 27 if you haven’t already.
What’s it like to live in a world of superheroes? To turn on the news and hear that an invasion from another dimension has just been foiled by a team of brightly costumed men and women with incredible powers. For the second time that year. Or your trip to the shops is disrupted by an army of living clothes or a wall-destroying rumble between two men in hi-tech armour?
This is a question that’s been on the mind of Rik Hoskin and it’s the kernel that has resulted in “Bystander 27”, an exciting science fiction adventure, set in a brand new world of superheroes and villains. Hoskin is a veteran author of many rollicking science fiction adventures in the “Deathlands” and “Outlanders” series, writing under the name of James Axler. He’s also written a comic shop’s worth of material for Superman, a host of Disney properties and many indies as well. In “Bystander 27” he brings all that love for the genre into an ingenious page-turner.
Ex-Navy SEAL Jon Hayes is standing on a Manhattan corner, looking forward to meeting his pregnant wife Melanie, but instead witnesses her violent death as collateral during a fight between Captain Light and one of his archenemies, the Jade Shade. His grief soon turns into an obsession to find out more about how these super-powered individuals operate. However, the more he discovers about them, the more questions he has. Then whilst reviewing a piece of video footage of a recent costumed conflict, he sees something truly impossible.
There are plenty of twists and turns to come that I would hate to spoil because a lot of the pleasure in this novel is the way the mystery is unravelled. Hoskin clearly has a ball creating a fresh hierarchy of heroes, their mighty nemeses, and then dropping in references to previous adventures. Some have echoes of famous DC and Marvel characters and there is fun to be had recognising the little tips of the hat. He captures the tone of classic comics exactly right, and leaves the reader wishing to know more about the exploits of The Hunter, The Mechanist or Doctor Decay. It feels like an established world.
New York is described equally well, with some great turns of phrase and touches of humour about its inhabitants. When it comes to action, and there is plenty of that, the fight scenes are excellently choreographed and sharply written. Hayes is an engaging protagonist, capable, skilled but still vulnerable and believable.
In a media landscape saturated with comic strip heroics, Hoskin manages to find an original angle and has written an exciting high-concept science fiction adventure.