Portrait of Wikkaman

It is time to keep your appointment with – Wikkaman

Some days I am amazed by what appears in my inbox. Such as this, the latest project from the indefatigable and talented Rik Hoskin. Wikkaman is a brand new comic strip appearing in the pages of Aces Weekly – an online comics anthology edited by UK comics legend David Lloyd, the artist responsible for V for Vendetta, Hellblazer, Night Raven and many more memorable guest strips.

Wikkaman will run for seven weeks beginning Monday 15th October.  It’s based on a real life band – a Dorset acoustic folk group – who’s company includes Rik’s wife Hannah. Now he has put them into some comic book adventures, which are in the style of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons he and I grew up with in the 70’s and early 80’s. It will run for seven weeks, beginning Monday 15th October. A labour of love for Rik, to me it is a project that harks back to his early, more personal work, and the indie anthology Nu-Comix.

Artwork is courtesy of Nick Taylor. Incidentally the colouring is by Chatri Ahpornsiri, no mean musician himself who provided music for my own Fine Line and Agents of Psyence audios.

Rik recently talked about the origins of his new work on John Freeman’s long-running comics blog Down the Tubes

Aces Weekly is a comic art collection of serials and short stories beamed directly to readers through cyberspace, featuring a mixture of new talent and established names. Subscriptions to Aces Weekly are a mere US $9.99 or UK £6.99 for about 150 pages over seven weeks. 21 of those pages are written by Rik. So it’s a pretty good deal, even if you don’t enjoy the Wikkaman story! You can find out more about this exciting project from its webpage.

And if you are interested in what band look/sound like, you can check out their Youtube promo too:

And why not visit their Facebook page too.

Husband sits on bed talking to his wife

The Tunnel Under the World

By Frederick Pohl
Adapted by David Campton

I can remember reading Frederick’s Pohl’s short story in an anthology many years ago and loving it, especially its shocking conclusion which felt very fresh at the time. Since then the idea of a protagonist discovering his seemingly ordinary life is in fact an elaborate construct has become a regular in books, television and cinema. Not just in SF but also thrillers. The Tunnel Under the World is an entertaining episode that feels oddly reassuring after watching three extremely dark episodes set in enclosed futuristic environments of one kind or another.

Guy and Mary Birkett have a pretty comfortable life in an modern urban town, which is dominated by the local chemical plant where Guy works. At least it would be comfortable if there weren’t so many intrusive advertising campaigns, from the front page of the morning newspaper to a loudspeaker car driving by blaring out slogans. Who is Mr Swanson, the man who keeps trying to contact Guy and tell him that tomorrow doesn’t exist? Why does Guy have an increasing sense of deja vu? Why does he wake up screaming every morning?

This is as close to the feel of The Twilight Zone as Out of the Unknown has come so far. With its suit-wearing executive hero, I was reminded of the Richard Matheson episode A World of Difference in particular, although it has a different theme. The SF mystery is delivered at a steady pace and plays fair with the viewer, building up its clues and strangeness in a well-constructed fashion. The Groundhog Day element is established early on, but the ultimate reason for it is still a good surprise and well achieved for the effects of the time. Television regular Ronald Hines is fine as the increasingly concerned Guy.

Ever since WWII, science fiction writers have frequently worried about the increasingly scientific appliance of propaganda and advertising. George Orwell wrote about the Ministry of Truth in 1984, and oppressive advertising campaigns have become something of a shorthand for futuristic dystopia. This story reflects a fear of men who believe they can control society through clever messages, and worse, the worry that such people could be right. Towards the end, the industrialist Spelman talks about his political ambitions, with the inference that he will gain power through propaganda rather than principles.

In the same way that television drama writers often fail to create believable youth culture on camera, so made-up advertising campaigns always seem extra phony. It my be that Mad Men cracked that problem, but I haven’t seen it. It is a shame, because it does take away a little from the story, because the adverts seen and heard in the series are so annoying. It’s also a little odd that no one watches television either in a sixties household. It is also slightly ironic that the most effective sales technique is still the old-fashioned personal touch, when Guy and Mary are both persuaded to buy fridges.

For a story that is all about a character questioning the reality of his surroundings, it’s a shame the house set has got a severe case of wobble on it. Most noticeably early on, when Guy reassures his wife that “At least this house is sturdy enough” and knocks on a wall that visibly quivers! It’s a shame because it undermines a later scene where Swanson discovers a brick wall that is actually wallpaper covering metal. The pressure of Sixties ‘as live’ recording also leads to actress Petra Davis noticeably stumbling over lines as she wakes up for the third time. A suitcase which is meant to hit Guy on the head clearly misses, forcing him to pretend to fall unconsciousness for no evident reason.

Late on in the story a rather charming robot appears, looking like two Bakelite radios placed on top of each other, with eyes on tubes that expressively extend and retract as it talks. I was glad to see they went to the trouble of creating this puppet for a relatively short amount of screen time and it is a fun moment.

Ultimately the story is about that modern feeling we’ve had since the industrial age began that we are not so much individuals as components in a system designed to exploit our humanity and make us permanently dissatisfied consumers, always being manipulated. Despite my nit-picking about the production, it’s a very enjoyable SF tale with a great final reveal. It is such a shame that most of this second season is missing from the archive, because Out of the Unknown really found its feet this series. Nevertheless my ranking goes as follows:

  1. The Machine Stops
  2. The Tunnel Under the World
  3. Level 7
  4. Lambda 1

Next stop – colour!