Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I haven't done a jot of work for a week unless you count the Jose Ortiz piece published a couple of days ago . . . OK, I haven't done any paid work. Instead, I have been enjoying life in the bosom of my family and eaten my own bodyweight in roast potatoes and Christmas pudding. We managed to exercise off a sprout or two going for what is euphemistically called a "walk" but which turned out to be an arm-wrenching half-hour being dragged around the neighbourhood by my sister Julie's new dog. Otherwise, we sat around, chatting and laughing and watching a bit of TV.
It was rather sad to hear on Christmas Eve that Jose Ortiz had died as he was one of the best of the Spanish artists who worked for British comics. I'll follow up yesterday's post with another series of "Caroline Baker" later in the week as it's a strip that doesn't often receive any coverage.
Have a happy new year in 2014.
Of everything I've done with Bear Alley, Bear Alley Books is my proudest achievement. Here's a list of our top-selling titles for 2013. In a not so surprising change since the last top-sellers list, the latest books prove to be outselling the old books. But I'm pleased to say that some of the older books, even those dating back a couple of years, continue to sell, even if in small numbers.
No.4 King Solomon's Mines
No.5 Treasure Island
No. 6 Hurricane & Champion
No. 15 Sexton Blake Annual 1941
No. 16 Sexton Blake Annual 1942
No. 17 Sexton Blake Annual 1940
No. 18 Not Forgotten 2009-10
No. 19 Mean Streetmaps
Monday, December 30, 2013
Here's a short series featuring Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law, written by Willie Patterson and drawn by the late Jose Ortiz. I'll re-run another, longer Caroline Baker yarn in a couple of days time.
(* © Express Newspapers Ltd.)
(* © Express Newspapers Ltd.)
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Jose Ortiz in 2012, with the Grand Prize of the Barcelona International Comic-Con
Jose Ortiz, whose sixty years as a comic strip artist encompassed a thirty-year span working for British comics, has died on Monday, 23 December at the age of 81. Feeling ill, he had been admitted to La Fe hospital in Valencia a week before he died of heart failure. Of all the Spanish artists who found themselves working for British publishers during the British comics' boom of the 1950s and 1960s, José Ortiz was one of the longest survivors. Such is his longevity, that he has fans for each of the decades he worked in the UK: those who grew up in the 1960s will remember his as the artist of countless war libraries as well as “UFO Agent” and its sequel “Smokeman” in Eagle; fans in the 1970s are more likely to remember his work in nursery or girls comics or his eight month run as the artist of "The Persuaders" in TV Action; in the 1980s he helped relaunch the Eagle with fantasies "The Tower King" and "The Fifth Horseman" and went on to draw the long-running horror series "The Thirteenth Floor" and various tales of the genetically-adapted warrior "Rogue Trooper".
At the same time, Ortiz is widely recognised as one of the masters of comic art in his native Spain as the artist of "Hombre" and "Burton y Cyb" and one of the most popular contributors to the American horror magazines published by James Warren.
Ortiz worked extensively for Editorial Maga for the next decade, working on El Capitan Don Nadie [Captain Don Nobody] (1952), El Principe Pablo [Prince Paul] (covers only, 1953-54), Coleccion Comandos (1954), Sebastián Vargas (1954), Don Barry, El Terremoto [Dan Barry, Earthquake] (1954), Balin (1955), Pantera Negra [Black Panther] (1956), El duque negro [The Black Duke] (1957), Apache (1958), Bengala (1959) and Johnny Fogata (1960). Of these, Ortiz was probably best-known for the western adventures of Don Barry, which ran for 76 issues and 3 'annuals' in 1954-57; Ortiz also drew the first 31 issues of another popular western, Johnny Fogata.
By the late 1950s, Ortiz was also establishing himself with other publishers, such as Toray, with such strips as Sigur el Wikingo [Sigur the Viking] and stories of the wild west in the anthology Hazañas del Oeste; for Bruguera he produced stories for Bisonte Extra Ilustrada, distributed almost exclusively in Argentina, and adaptations for Colección Historias such as "Los Viajes de Gulliver" [Gulliver's Travels] and "Las Cruzadas" [The Crusades].
Ortiz had made his British debut in 1957 with "In Love's Trap" in D. C. Thomson's early romantic pocket library Love and Life; other early sales to Golden Heart Pocket Library, Thriller Picture Library and Top Spot followed, but it was 1960 before he established himself as a regular in Ted Bensberg's war libraries department, producing three dozen stories for War, Battle, War at Sea and Air Ace libraries between 1960-67. In 1962-63 he drew the short-lived "Caroline Baker, Barrister-at-Law" for the Daily Express, preparing for the task of illustrating the adventures of a female lawyer by coming to the UK and making sketches at a magistrate's court.
In 1964, Ortiz took over the character of John Brody for Boys' World and produced "The Green Men" in colour on the rear page for seven weeks. He later took over the adventures of "UFO Agent" Major Grant in the original Eagle, which, exploiting the popularity for American superheroes that followed the appearance of the Batman TV show, became the superhero "Smokeman", then, when that bubble burst within the year, became a member of the C.I.D. When "Grant (C.I.D.)" came to an end, Ortiz continued to work for Eagle on the aerial pirates yarn, "Sky Buccaneers".
Ortiz's agent, Josep Toutain of Selecciones Illustrades, created for publication in Spain and in the US in the early 1970s and - like many of his contemporaries - Ortiz saw the American market as a way of escaping the strictures of the British comics' market and earn a better return for his efforts. With James Warren's horror comics Vampirella, Eerie and others, he found the market he was looking for and, as David Roach records in The Warren Companion, "At Warren he embraced the 'new look' with relish to produce a succession of superbly-drawn stories such as "Coffin", "Jackass", and his masterpiece, "The Apocalypse" (which ran in Eerie #62-65). This looked like it wasn't so much inked as feverishly scratched out of a morass of black ink and seething textures." He was named Warren's Best All Around Artist in 1974.
Although Ortiz could not maintain this intensity, he became Warren's most prolific artist, contributing 119 strips to the Warren magazines, abandoning the UK market but maintaining a presence in Spain and Europe with strips such as "El Cuervo" for Kung-Fu (1976), "Los Grandes Mitos del Oeste" [Great Myths of the West] (1978) and El Nuevo Tarzan (1979-81).
As the Warren magazines lost circulation, Ortiz found a new market in Spain where new comics aimed at an older audience such as Cimoc, for which Ortiz teamed up with Antonio Segura on the science fiction series "Hombre" in 1981. The series portrayed a post-Apocalypse society that has developed following the collapse of civilised society. The series, a futuristic twist on the Spaghetti Western, sees the man known only as Hombre travelling from city to city, encountering survivors often banded together as small communities for protection against the hostile environment and marauding bands.
In 1983 he teamed up with his nephew Leopoldo Sanchez who, with writer Mariano Hispano,was co-founder of Ediciones Metropol; Ortiz contributed a number of strips to their three titles, Metropol, Mocambo and KO Comics, including "Hombre" in the latter. Although Ediciones Metropol lasted only a year, Ortiz was able to concentrate on contributing strips to the new adult comics published by Toutain Editor, such as "Las mil caras de Jack el Destripador" [Jack the Ripper] (1984) for Creepy, and Norma Editorial. In 1987 he created, with Segura, "Burton y Cyb" for Zona 84 (and, later, Comix Internacional) and "Morgan", which debuted as "Ives" in Metropol before being revived in Cimoc.
Ortiz also contributed to 2000AD, mostly illustrating "Rogue Trooper", but also single episodes of "The Helltrekkers" and "Judge Dredd" (1987). His last strips in the UK were "Kid Cops" for Eagle (1988) nad "Kitten Magee" in WildCat and the merged Eagle & WildCat (1988-89). Contemporarily, he also briefly worked on Sabre for Eclipse and a number of stories appeared in Heavy Metal.
In the early 1990s Ortiz drew "Bud O'Brien" (for Torpedo) and "Ozone" (for L'Eternauta), and contributed two volumes to a lavish collection of books from Planeta-Deagostini with the overall title Tales of the New World: #2 La civilización Inca: Los Hijos del Sol (1991) and #25 Orígenes del hombre Americano: Los Primeros (1992).
“Hombre” had continued to appear in Cimoc until the 1990s but Spanish comics suffered a collapse in popularity in that decade following the Golden Age of the 1980s. Subsequently, Ortiz spent twenty years working for Sergio Bonelli on the famous Italian western Tex. He has also drawn episodes of "Ken Parker" and "Magico Vento" [Magic Wind] for their respective titles. The latter is currently being reprinted in Italy as Magico Vento Deluxe and in English translation by Epicenter Comics in the USA, with volume 1 published in June 2013 and volume 3 due to appear in January 2014 (volume two was by other hands).
In 1998, Ortiz was awarded the Parparajote de Oro by the Asociación de Amigos del Tebeo de la Región de Murcia.
Recently, Ortiz produced a colour episode, “La dimora stregara” [The Haunted House], penned by Andrea Cavaletto, for Dylan Dog Color Fest (2012).
In May 2012, Ortiz was awarded the Grand Prize—the Gran Premio del Salón—at the 30th Barcelona International Comics Convention in recognition of his brilliant career; a retrospective exhibition took place at the following year’s Comic-Con in April 2013.
The second volume of a complete collection of “Hombre”, was published by Editorial EDT Editores de Tebeos in November.
(* photo: http://www.ficomic.com)
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Frost* - Hyperventilate
I've always played music while I work. Some writers need silence and the slightest noise can break their train of thought. I've always taken the opposite view: a well-loved piece of music that you're familiar with is no more distracting than wallpaper. Maybe it's because I've lived and worked near busy roads with a steady stream of human traffic as well as noisy buses and lorries rumbling past. The familiar music drowns those distractions out for me.
My trick is to play music while I'm writing and listen to comedy, drama or feature material while I'm working on artwork because the bit of your brain used for writing is also the bit of your brain you use to interpret other people's words. A few years ago, while I was working on an introduction to a book, I managed to play an hour and a half radio drama based on an Agatha Christie novel, but I was concentrating so hard that, when it finished, I had no idea who had been murdered, let alone who had done it.
If you find yourself distracted by words, soundtracks to movies or classical music will do the trick.
The two albums have recently been released in a two-CD pack under the title English Electric: Full Power with four extra tracks, the latter also available on a separate EP, Make Some Noise (the title track of which can be heard/seen at their official website). You can also download the full 23 minute title track from The Underfall Yard for free.
Being a freelance writer means that you spend a fair amount of time broke, but there are plenty of options available to legally listen to stuff. Here in the UK you have access to dozens of radio stations: every BBC or commercial station broadcasts in digital these days and live streams over the internet. Take a look at the stations available. . . I'm sure you'll be able to find one to suit your tastes.
If that doesn't suit you and you want to be able to pick and chose your music, why not try Spotify. It's free as long as you don't mind the occasional advert and you can always subscribe if the adverts get too much. They're pretty good at picking up on new albums and have a huge back catalogue (recently added to with the arrival of Led Zeppelin). Dig around and you'll discover a lot of obscure bands that you might enjoy.
Jamendo, which includes hundreds of independently produced albums and tracks. I've found some very interesting musicians over the past couple of years. My favourites are SaReGaMa, who have released a handful of albums; if you want to try one of their instrumental tracks, here's a nice one to start with, Clouds Fly As I Smile.
Another set of instrumental albums has been produced by Zero-Project—actually a Greek guy called Nikos—who composes electronic ambient music. It makes excellent background music. . . and all for free unless you want to donate something.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Comedy and music probably fill most of the hours of my day: in the evenings we watch quite a few comedy shows, some of which I mentioned yesterday. We tend to follow what are nowadays called comedy-quizes—the kind of show that ends up on Dave. So: QI, Would I Lie To You, Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Was It Something I Said . . plus Stand Up For The Week, which has a structure but no quiz element.
There were a few new sitcoms that proved worth watching this year such as Graham Linehan's re-imagining of Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show with Steve Delaney, Matt Berry's Toast of London, which was wonderfully silly, Man Down with Greg Davies, which is just as daft, Hebburn, a rather warmer, gentler family comedy (actually from late 2012 but for various reasons not watched until early 2013) and the massively camp and highly comic Vicious starring Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi. All will be returning in 2014.
One of the big hits of the year, and rightly so, was The Wrong Mans, a comic action-adventure starring James Corden and Matthew Baynton, which we enjoyed. I also enjoyed Ambassadors with David Mitchell and Robert Webb, which I hope was successful enough to merit another season as three episodes was far too few; it was just beginning to go places when it stopped.
I am glad to see that one of my favourites of the year has been given a second series: Badults is about three friends sharing a flat. . . after which it isn't so easy to describe. Two of the flatmates have failed to grow up and the one who thinks he's grown up isn't very good at it. That's the starting point for plenty of daft fun from messrs. Matthew Crosby, Tom Parry and Ben Clark, a.k.a. Pappy's Fun Club.
Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown page - scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the earliest episodes. And you should also give their sketch comedy a try with the Bangers and Mash podcast.
My other podcast hero is Richard Herring, who produces more free stuff than should ever be expected of one man. From As It Occurs To Me, through Richard Herring's Edinburgh Fringe Podcast to his Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, Herring has led the podcast "revolution"—in inverted commas because many have tried but few have managed to keep going. Herring, on the other hand, has used his free work (which includes a daily blog, which he also podcasts via Soundcloud and iTunes) to help expand the audience for his stand up shows and earn him radio and TV work, which is where he earns his money, promptly ploughed back into other experiments. His Leicester Square Theatre shows have been filmed and are available as single or series downloads via Go Faster Stripe. The cash generated is being used to film a sketch/interview show under the title Richard Herring's Meaning of Life, the first episode of which has been filmed and due for release some time early next year.
The Comedian's Comedian, in which Stuart Goldsmith digs into areas you wouldn't always go in an interview, asking about writing methods and how jokes are constructed or, sometimes, how they can grow organically; or Answer Me This where Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer any questions asked by listeners, from the origins of certain words to relationship advice, all with the aid of Martin the Sound Man; or The Bugle, which has more puns per second than any other podcast thanks to the pun-run talents of Andy Zaltzman (yes, brother of Helen) and John Oliver (the guy who took over Jon Stewart's The Daily Show recently); or The Smartest Man In The World podcast where Greg Proops will talk about any subject on the planet, especially if it involves the negro baseball league.
Do a search on iTunes as it's very easy to subscribe to all of these and they'll be delivered to your iPlayer each week. And while you're there try subscribing to things like The Infinite Monkey Cage, More or Less or Tim Harford's Pop-Up Ideas which are also well worth listening to.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Working from home can have its advantages and disadvanages. One is the easy access to distractions like TV. We don't have Sky, so that limits Mel and I to terrestrial channels. As we only have a couple of hours of an evening to watch TV and we don't watch TV every evening, there's usually enough on the tele to keep us going, especially since I introduced her to the foreign language shows on BBC Four.
As I'm at home, I have a habit of picking up box-sets of shows we don't watch together, so I have been catching up on shows like Fringe, which I never saw as it was broadcast on Sky. Some shows I've drifted away from: I used to follow CSI and CSI: New York religiously, for instance, but haven't had much time for them since we moved three years ago. The last series of CSI I watched was series 9 and they're now up to series 14 with Ted Danson in the lead; I drifted away from CSI: New York at the same time, so probably saw up to season 5. I will have to catch up with both shows at some point.
I guess Broadchurch was the show that kept us both on the edge of the sofa this year. We knew Chris Chibnall's work for Doctor Who and this had the right balance of suspense and homeliness to keep it from being too dark. There were some notable flops like Mayday and I must admit that I wasn't that impressed by Top of the Lake, although others seemed to like the latter. It will be good to see David Tennant and the wonderful Olivia Colman back together again in the new year.
The series that probably had me most glued to the set this year was Channel Four's conspiracy thriller Utopia, which was chillingly good. Thankfully there will be a second series, unlike The Fades, which deserved far more from BBC Three. You need a bit of weirdness in your life and this was it for me (even more so than the French not-quite-zombies series The Returned.
On the comedy front, we've probably had more laughs this year out of Jack Whitehall than anyone else, thanks to Bad Education, Fresh Meat and Back Chat, plus turns on Have I Got News For You and elsewhere.
There are shows that I want to see but haven't yet: Breaking Bad (I've just picked up season one), Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, Arrow (Green Arrow being one of my favourite comics some years back), Veep, 30 Rock and Louis.
That's a lot of catching up to do. I'm beginning to think that I'm not going to be getting much work done in 2014...
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Monday, December 23, 2013
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
I'm still working on the next couple of Bear Alley book releases and we should see The Man Who Searched For Fear out next month; I'm hoping that I can hustle the Countdown/TV Action index into shape next month for publication in February, but I'm not promising anything at this stage. I'm still roughing out the introduction but it has been a slow process. The Bill Lacey collection, on the other hand, has been coming along nicely and I'll post a couple of pages at the end of the column.
This is the second week in a row I've used the word "slow". In part it's the run-up to Christmas, which always involves sorting out a ton of things that aren't normally a problem. I will have family staying over for a few days, for instance, so there's beds and blankets and bacon to sort out . . . my sister loves bacon butties and would probably sacrifice the bed if it came down to a choice between those three. Her dog needs the blankets.
There's a sense of happy chaos in the house at the moment. Mel and I put up our tiny tree on Monday and smothered it with decorations; and this year's tree-topper is a talking Dalek. I'll do my best to get a photo over the next couple of days.
Minecraft Annual 2014 (Egmont, 122,635)
Beano Annual 2014 (DC Thomson, 88,360)
Last year's Beano figure was much higher at around this time of year, the Top Three for 15 December 2012 looking like this:
One Direction The Official Annual 2013 (HarperCollins, 158,791)
Beano Annual 2013 (DC Thomson, 146,897)
Moshi Monsters Official Annual (Sunbird, 139,047)
The other chart I produced last year was of the best-selling Bear Alley Books, which I will compile and post at the end of the year. I'm pretty sure I know what will be topping that particular chart, unless something weird happens in the next week.
Working alone at home, there are quite a few things that hold body and soul together. For me, one of the most important things is music. I have always listened to music, radio and, nowadays, podcasts while I work. So I'm thinking that I ought to plug some of the people who have kept me going. I'm not going to do that now, but I'll have a think over the next few days and post a few odds and ends between Christmas and New Year.
But here's one. This is a promo for a DVD that has just come out – I don't have a copy yet but it's on my wish list as my first treat of 2014. I love Frost* (the asterisk is important). They have produced two superlative albums (Milliontown, Experiments in Mass Appeal) and a third is in the works. To tide fans over they've just released The Rockfield Files, with eight live tracks (two acoustic) and an interview.
If you're new to Frost*, the first track below is "Black Light Machine" from their first album. The second video is the trailer for the DVD.
I've lined up a little Christmas comic strip for the next few days, which I hope you enjoy. Here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas . . . I hope you have a good one. Here's a taster of Agent of the Queen for you. Something to look forward to in 2014.