Horror in a Pack – Hot Trumps

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.

Some of the delights inside Horror Hot Trumps

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.

Hands across the Atlantic

Bystander 27 review

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.

Bystander 27 is available now at all good bookshops including Amazon, with a free online preview

Bystander 27

Long time readers of this blog may recall that my friend Rik Hoskin has already had a long career of writing novels under other people’s names, like James Axler. So it was overdue that he got a chance to write one emblazoned with his own. A name that can already be seen on many a comic, graphic novel, DragonCon award and much else. Bystander 27 is a hugely enjoyable SF adventure set in a world of original superheroes, but told from street level. What’s it like to live in a place in a place which is regularly invaded by aliens, or threatened by monsters created by mad scientists, where only a team of uniquely powered men and women can save you? Ex-SEAL Hayes had never really thought about the superheroes, beyond seeing the on the TV news. But when a battle above Manhattan claims his pregnant wife, Hayes’ search for answers take him down a dangerous route into a secret world.

Expect a fuller review soon but in the meantime you can read three excellent interviews with Rik released this week. Find out about the origins of his first original novel and some of his other recent projects over at Dynamic Forces.

John Freeman’s regular blog about the comic industry Down the Tubes catches up with Rik to talk about the novel, his recent graphic novel collaborations with Indian publisher Campfire, and being the lead writer of the computer game Game of Khans.

Finally there is quite an in-depth conversation with Rik about the novel over at paulsemel.com in which he talks about his writing methods and what he thinks about Abaddon Books’ description of his new book as “Megamind meets John Wick“!

Bystander 27 is available now at all good bookshops including Amazon, with a free online preview

Coming soon – Red Rising: Wrath, Talking Pictures TV and more

Hello again. How are you? It’s round-up time again and whilst I’ve been recording some more reviews for the Talking Pictures TV podcast, some good friends have been much more productive.

The latest edition of the Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now. Now being overseen by Mel Byron, Daniel Reifferscheid and Scott Phipps, it’s in a slightly shorter but hopefully more regular format. And they’ve kindly included my cheerful appreciation of Hammer Film’s loony fantasy adventure The Lost Continent, which will be appearing on the UK channel on 4th March at 12.10am. You can download the podcast from your favourite player or the home page.

Rik Hoskin has let me know that his second graphic novel set in the world of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books is about to be unleashed on the 19th March. Set in an empire that spans the solar system, where people are born into strict castes and most are forced to live as slaves for a ruling elite called the Golds. Red Rising – Sons of Ares: Wrath continues the story of how disgraced Gold Fitchner became the leader of a ruthless resistance movement known as the Sons of Ares. I loved the first volume and I can wholeheartedly recommend this SF epic. You can get a taste of it from the trailer below:

Finally I’ve been continuing my work at Bolton Little Theatre, producing soundscapes for Things I Know to be True and Brighton Beach Memoirs. I’m grateful for the help of two fresh volunteers Steven and Sam who come on to the sound side lately. Here’s two promos I’ve put together for the productions too.

A short monologue from this acclaimed production.
On stage 30th March – 4th April 2020

Green for Frankenstein and other news

Poster art of Alistair Sim and David Prowse

Plenty of activity this month. First up, the latest episode of The Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out and amongst it marvellous cotirie of reviewers, you’ll hear me outlining the merits of two very different comedy thrillers – Green for Danger and The Horror of Frankenstein. Which one most alarmed the British censor? You might be surprised. Compliments to Adam Roche for another excellent installment.

Still on podcasting, BERGcast the series all about Quatermass, has now reached Hammer’s first adaptation The Quatermass Xperiment, and it’s an entertaining hour looking at the pros and cons of the 1955 movie. As usual it also has background information I have never heard before. Personally I have disagree over Brian Donlevy though. Often criticised as hopelessly miscast, for me I like his driven, almost monstrous version of the scientist. It may have come about more be accident than intention, but Donlevy’s Quatermass as tough private eye portrayal is memorable and distinctive compared to many other academics of Fifties SF. This is a movie where the hero is actually adding to danger as much as combating it, and for me that is part of its strength.

book cover

Rik Hoskin has two exciting projects to talk about. Out now is an audio drama adaptation of his bestselling White Sands graphic novel set in Brandon Sanderson’s shared Cosmere universe. You can listen to the trailer and buy it from Graphic Audio right now. I have not heard it yet but intend to obtain it soon. Coming in November is a follow-up to his excellent comic series Red Rising: Sons of Ares. A prequel to the bestselling space opera adventure series Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Wrath carries on the early career of terrorist/freedom fighter Fitchner and his fight against the tyranical caste-based empire which rules the Solar System in the future. I loved the first six issue run and I’m looking forward to more of Rik’s storytelling and Eli Powell’s intricate but fluid art. Follow the link to read an interview at Bleeding Cool.

Ultimate Finality posters

Finally Bolton Little Theatre are presenting A Bunch of Amateurs between 16th and 21st September. As well as assembling the sound effects and music, I’m helping with the marketing. Part of that is creating a quick video advert and I had the idea of coming up with some fake posters for faded US star Jefferson Steel’s recent movies, which you can see above. It should be an excellent comedy and having seen rehearsals I can recommend it.

Friends’ fantasies: White Sand 3 and Quantum Assassin

There’s two new books set in exciting fantasy worlds coming out soon and the link between them is that they’re written by friends of mine. Talented comrades who have been rather more productive than me on the fiction front of late.

First up is the third and final volume of Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand graphic series, as adapted by the multi-gifted Rik Hoskin. The first two volumes have been a big hit for Dynamite Comics and Mr Sanderson himself has been delighted with Rik’s revision of his unpublished manuscript, set in what would become his Cosmere Universe. Rik was recently interviewed about the third volume, its new artist Fritz Casas, and what it has been like collaborating on a huge project like this. There’s also a bit of news for fans of Death Lands too. You can read the interview right here. I am biased but I thought it was a fascinating read.

White Sand 3 is released in hardback on 25th June and is available for pre-order at all good bookshops now.

Meanwhile Michael Langley and my erstwhile BBV collaborator Paul Ebbs are launching a new trilogy of fantasy/SF novels under the moniker
Quantum Assassin , starting with Chain World. To quote Paul:

“It’s a rollicking SF\Fantasy adventure with big swords, big spaceships, big guns and a load of big dumb objects which meet at the intersection of Science and Magic.”

Looking at the blurb on Amazon we learn more: “Between two impossible worlds, three heroes must rise. Shryke the warrior, Galdar the curate and Barl the trainee Assassin. Each on a mission that will bring them into collision, not only with each other, but also with an enemy of immense power, the God-Queen.
Chainworld: sixteen planet-sized links with terraformed inner surfaces. Sixteen wholly different environments where science holds sway, or magic, or an uneasy equilibrium of both. Sixteen worlds of warriors, mages, and scientists, plasma-soldiers, steam-pirates, airship captains, and the ravaging forces of the God-Queen. Shryke is a killer who wields secret magic – on the run but searching for clues to reveal a threat to all reality. Barl has been kidnapped from the endless vistas of God’s Heart, a mysterious sphere that completely encloses its host star. He is taken on a journey through the vast magical-technological training spaces of the Guild of Assassins. Here he will be trained not only to kill but also to travel through the spaces between atoms. When Galdar’s people are massacred by the forces pursuing Shryke, they must find a way up through the atmosphere to the hidden city controlling all life bringing forces at the centre of Chainworld. Shryke, Galdar and Barl alone must stand to the Sun Machine and the world beyond the quantum. “

So that is Chain World, coming soon to paperback and Audible on 18th June.

Happy reading!

The Dresser

Gareth addressing classroom

Life is slightly stressed at the moment. In addition to my Digital Technology and Solutions Apprenticeship (above is a picture of myself speaking as part of National Apprenticeships Week) I am fulfilling my commitments to Bolton Little Theatre and assembling the sound cues for the last three plays of the season, most crucially The Dresser, which will be presented 8th -13th April. I’ve just made a trailer to promote what promises a marvelous play, and I decided to use the opportunity to learn about Adobe Premiere. I’ve been aware of this software for years and seen others using it. It’s used on all Westlake Film shorts. It is something of an industry standard at the lower end of video production. Manchester Metropolitan University now installs it as standard on their PC’s and my work computer has recently been upgraded.

My first impressions are pretty good. Compared to Cyberlink Power Director, my usual choice of video editor, the interface can be a bit intimidating and confusing with so many windows opening, but there is a logic to it. It didn’t crash and there is an impressive set of tools. The audio clean up tools were particularly helpful on this project, because I had recorded the actors in far from studio quality surroundings, although the reverb from the auditorium did add to the atmosphere for this play about a theatre company. I might add more thoughts about using it in time. For now, I hope you like my first Adobe Premiere promo clip.

The story: World War Two is grinding on and England perseveres. Last of his kind, actor/manager ‘Sir’ and his wife ‘Her Ladyship’ continue touring Shakespeare in the provinces with a company depleted by conscription. Sir is plainly unwell, discharging himself from hospital and Her Ladyship believes he should cancel his upcoming performance of ‘King Lear’. However Norman, his loyal, outspoken dresser disagrees and is determined that the show will go on.
You can find out more and book tickets from http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk

Two other quick bits of news. James Axler’s Deathlands is back from the nuclear wilderness with a new series of audiobooks, edited and written by Rik Hoskin. Rik has written several of the original range, as well as masterminding the later years of its spin-off Outlanders.
Deathlands is a post-apocalyptic USA adventure series following a band of warriors searching for a home, but only finding mutant horrors, extreme environments and violent communities, as well as more bizarre SF threats.
The first book in the relaunched series is Glory’s Stockpile and you can listen to an excerpt at https://soundcloud.com/graphicaudio/deathlands-134-glorys-stockpile

Finally, the second episode of the Talking Pictures podcast is out and you can hear me and my thoughts on the Laurel and Hardy short Tit for Tat within it, amongst many other talented contributors. There is also an excellent interview with the head of Talking Pictures –
Sarah Cronin-Stanley. Listen to it at Spotify, ACast, iTunes or from Adam Roche’s own blog: https://www.attaboyclarence.com/the-talking-pictures-tv-podcast

It is time to keep your appointment with – Wikkaman

Portrait of 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.

White Sand wins an award for Rik Hoskin

comic strip panel

I’m delighted to report that Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand, written by my good friend Rik Hoskin, has won Best Graphic Novel at the Dragon Awards 2018, announced at DragonCon on Saturday night 1st September 2018.

whitesand

I’ve mentioned this New York Times bestseller before and it is great to see Rik’s talent being recognised by fans of fantasy from around the world.

White Sand is based on Sanderson’s first ever completed novel, although he never submitted to publishers because he knew it need polishing. In later years the author had always had an ambition to go back and revise the book to improve it, and fit it into his later Cosmere saga. Eventually Dynamite Comics came to him, asking if he had any titles which he would like to be adapted into a comic. Sanderson saw this as an ideal opportunity to revisit White Sand and develop it into a graphic novel trilogy, which is now the canonical version of the story.

On the planet Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness magical powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with a mysterious Darksider, with secrets of her own.

Available from all good bookshops! Rik and I produced a fantasy audio series called Agents of Psyence which you can listen to and download from this very blog.

About Dragon Con

Dragon Con is the internationally known pop culture convention held each Labor Day in Atlanta. Organized for fans, Dragon Con features more than about 3,000 hours of comics, film, television programming, costuming, art, music, and gaming over four days. For more information, please visit www.dragoncon.org.

For a complete list of this year’s winners, please look at their blog here

White Sands, Cemetery Club and other shares

poster artwork

Easter has just passed by and I seem to have reached critical mass with a number of little bits of news about what is happening in my world. So here is one of those occasional news round-up type posts of mine.

I’ve been pretty busy down at Bolton Little Theatre in the last few months. We had an extremely successful screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with plenty of the audience in costume and some wild behaviour in the aisles! I must admit I was pretty nervous how this night was going to play, so it was a big relief to hear our guests leaving in high spirits and some lovely feedback on the night. We’ll be showing Dirty Dancing on Saturday evening 9th June 2018. Visit the BLT website for tickets and more details.

But my main job in the last few months has been as sound designer and operator for various productions on both of our stages. Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn was a particular challenge, requiring party sounds every time the kitchen door was opened, and that door gets used an awful lot. Another tricky part was that each act opened with a Seventies Christmas pop song, which faded from normal to mimicking the tinny sound coming from an onset radio. But I pulled that off and this brilliant play about materialism and self-delusion was brilliantly acted by an excellent cast. I thought it was one of our best productions in a while. Although The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall, which I was only tangentially involved with, was every bit as good in every department.

Currently I am rehearsing The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell, a witty comedy about love in New York’s senior citizen community. the sound requirements for this are relatively modest, probably the most challenging of which is a whistling kettle and getting the volume of it right. But its still quite a time commitment and will take up most of this and next week’s evenings. I’ve also put together a promotional trailer, which you can watch below:

Overlapping with that production is Agnes of God by John Pielmeier, an intense interrogation drama set in a New York convent. I’ve already recorded some voiceovers for it and will shortly be assembling the choral musical cues with the director. Earlier last year I recorded the three woman cast at a readthrough, and so was able to create a particularly effective trailer, my favourite in a while:

With all this tech work, and editing a monthly BLT newsletter, there has been a knock on effect on my writing but I’m becoming more productive now with a couple of projects. One I can’t discuss yet but hopefully might turn into my biggest theatrical script yet. The other is a short video about my love for Michael Mann’s 1983 horror movie The Keep. I am currently writing the script. This will be the second in a new series Westlake Films is producing. The first episode, in which Carl Bowler rhapsodies about Scott Pilgrim vs The World, has just been released online. Carl does an excellent job in praising what makes the cult comic strip adaptation tick and how it links with his own life. You can find it on Westlake Films’ Youtube channel. Or indeed, right here!

My fellow writer Rik Hoskin has had several exciting projects published lately. His marvellous six-part SF comic Red Rising: Sons of Ares has been collected into a handsome graphic novel. Based on the hit YA series Red Rising by Pierce Brown, the comic tells of the origins of resistance leader Fitchner Au Barca. Born as a Gold, one of the ruling class of a brutal future human solar empire, the misfit Fitchner soon recognises the cruelty of the system. To protect his secret wife and son, who come from the lowest caste, Fitchner’s fight against the Empire leads to tragedy and the seeds of a rebellion. The artwork is engrossing and Rik’s storytelling skills are well in evidence.

redrisingsoa-01-cov-a-cypress

Speaking of graphic novels, the sequel to the New York Times bestseller White Sands, which was also written by Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin, is out now. White Sands Volume Two continues the adventures of a young magician on an alien world where sand can be magically wielded to create and destroy. It is adapted from an unpublished manuscript of Sanderson’s and is a part of his Cosmere universe. Both this and Red Rising: Sons of Ares are published by Dynamite Comics.

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Outlanders may have concluded but Rik is now involved with a new series of action novels – SEAL Team Six, alongside Max KentIt depicts the all action secret missions of a group of Navy SEALS – the proverbial best of the best of the best. Executive Order sees them dispatched to track down a ruthless ISIS group which has got its hands on US drone technology. I’m currently reading it and it’s great entertainment.

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Finally you can learn more about Rik by reading this recent interview, carried out by fellow comic and magazine writer John Freeman for his blog downthetubes.org. Click here for 10 Questions