Wednesday 30 September 2009

Sitcom Trials news, judges, tickets, sweary words

Hi Sitcom Trials fans,

A quick note to remind you that the Sitcom Trials begins its run at the Leicester Square Theatre on Monday Oct 19th, with shows every Monday night at 6pm (£5) and 8.30 (£10) leading to the grand final in December.

Judges lined up for the first few shows include I'm Alan Partridge star and comedy writer David Schneider, Red Dwarf star and author Robert Llewellyn, Inbetweeners writer Iain Morris, and Brass Eye & TV Burp writer David Quantick, with more cracking names being lined up as type.

James Parker, the season's producer, will be announcing the line up of sitcoms very shortly. In the meantime tickets are now available online at (that's if the link doesn't work directly) and have already started selling nicely.

News and updates will appear here and at, we all look forward to seeing you at the shows. Have fun.

Kev F Sutherland
Executive Producer
The Sitcom Trials

PS: Totally by the by, James has compiled this graph, repesenting the most used swear words in all the 380 script entries in this year's Sitcom Trials. Enjoy:

Monday 28 September 2009

The Mac and PC thing again

How do you argue with someone who knows and admits they're wrong? Frustrating but brilliant article by Charlie Brooker in today's guardian: - wherein he admits he realises PCs are rubbish and Macs work better, but still insists on using a PC through, I think he says, masochism.

The thing is Charlie Brooker is allowed to be contrary and counter-intuitive, it's his stock in trade to say rather extreme things in a highly entertaining way, and frequently he'll say things that he clearly doesn't mean, though in this case he means them even though he knows he's being irrational and nonsensical. The bizarre thing is the millions of other people who do exactly the same thing, without the self-knowing wit and levels of irony. People use PCs and defend PCs and rail against Macs, despite clearly knowing, and having demonstrated to them on a regular basis, that Macs work better.

I've used Macs since I was first given one in 1994, so that's 15 years of looking over PC users shoulders wondering what the hell they were messing around at. Why did anyone get a PC in the first place? The first 'Brooker' I encountered in this regard was my mate Steve (oldest school friend, Steve, we stayed in touch even though he moved hundreds of miles away, then he ended up being my office landlord for a while). Steve was, and I'm sure still is, both an early-adopter and a PC user. (Early adopter? Steve not only got Betamax, he's the person who bought a Phillips V2000 - the precursor of Betamax - and one of those VideoDisc machines, for which he only ever owned one disc, which I doubt he ever watched). And he works in computers, or certainly did from University onwards. By the time he was my landlord he was in advertising. And I had got my first Apple Mac, one of those simple beige boxes with a floppy disc drive and no internet. But it ran Quark Express and Microsoft Word and did it really quickly. And Steve would always be trying to show me things on the PC, and they'd regularly work really slowly and stop, right in the middle of his demonstration of them.

So I got a regular, reliable, drip-fed message that PCs, whenever they were called upon to do something impressive, would be unable to do them. (I know this was a by-product of Steve's over-eagerness to show you something a little prematurely, and that he was pushing the machine's ability, and no doubt he could have pulled the same negative selling trick had he been let loose on my Mac and some new piece of software which he was trying to use without reading the manual, but it had a lasting effect). His advertising company was even full to the brim with Macs. Yes, Steve would say, we have to use those because they work better. But doggedly he, alone in the company, would have a PC on his desk. (Along with that big tower-like box they have beside them. Why do PCs have those? My Macs have been all-in-one nifty unit ever since we got the helmet-shaped iMac and toilet-seat laptop nine years ago. Nine years, isn't that like 90 years in computer time?)

Meanwhile every subsequent Mac I got worked better than the last, looked nicer than the last, and when I compared notes with a PC-using friend, did more things, more easily than they could. Online - first on egroups and messageboards, then on Facebook and now on Twitter - I'd read regular rants from my fellow writers, complaining about work they'd lost through a computer crash, and cursing the names of companies like Tiny and Dell and PC World, and all I could do was try not to let out a reply of "you're not on a Mac then?", which I realise could only be aggravating, but surely not as aggravating as having a computer that stops working when you're trying to do stuff. (And when you turn PCs on, do they still give you some green letters on a black screen, like some arcade game from 1979? Or did I dream that?)

Let's be accurate here, my Macs have crashed in the past. In 1998 I had to take my black Mac Power PC back in once cos it crashed. In 2002 my toilet-seat iBook had to go back in because I'd made it crash editing a film in iMovie. And in 2004 we took the helmet-shaped iMac back in cos it crashed once. The iMac and MacBook we bought in 2005 haven't crashed yet, and I still use the old iBook for stuff. So they crash, on average, once every 3 and a bit years, or used to until 4 years ago. I'm not good with maths (you never had to be with a Mac, maybe that was another of its attractions).

So, Charlie Brooker has characterised me and my fellow Mac advocates as Christian-like evangelists, and what can I say? He has a point. It's the one area in my life where I always end up sounding smug and superior. I may not earn as much money as some people, I may not have the biggest car or the biggest house. But my computer, er, works. Oh great, now I've made even that sound trivial. Sigh.

Friday 25 September 2009

Films Are Dead Good

New from the Socks, a song called Films Are Dead Good. Well, I say new. This was, in fact, the very first thing I wrote for The SFSPT Goes To Hollywood a year ago, and we recorded a couple of stabs at it, neither of them seemed performable. So, rather than the audience coming in to this track before every show in Edinburgh this August, it's mouldered unlistened and unloved in the iTunes file for nigh on 12 months. Digging it out for the Socks to perform, it doesn't sound that bad. In case you can't follow the words (the song's big problem), they're annotated on the YouTube clip and listed below. Enjoy.

Cecil B B B De Mille and
Laurel Hardy Buster Keaton
Harold Lloyd and Sennet Mack and
Keystone Cops and no-one black

Lillian Gish, Al Jolson’s Mammy
Charlie Chaplin, Goldwyn Sammy
Potempkin and Caligari
Valentino, didn’t marry

Edison, Arbuckle Fatty
Randolph Hearst, granddad of Patty
Napoleon part 1 and part 2
Griffiths Birth and Nosferatu

Douglas Fairbanks, Clara Bow
And Eisentein, Erich von Stro-
Heim, the It Girl Swanson Gloria
Nickelodeon, the Astoria

Lumiere the Melies brothers
MGM and all the others

Films are not round, but somehow you can roll ‘em
Got to go to the pictures, so we can extoll them
Films are dead good and they’re always repeated
Except the ones made on nitrate stock, they’ve disintegrated

Paramount and RKO
Frankenstein Marilyn Monroe
Disney Singing In The Rain
The 7 Dwarves Citizen Kane

Orson Welles & Errol Flynn
Gene Kelly & Gone With The Wind
Spencer Tracy The Jazz Singer
Fred Astaire and Rogers Ginger

King Kong & Count Alucard
Film noir Sunset Boulevard
Jimmy Stewart, he was super
Cary Grant and Gary Cooper

Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando
Jimmy Cagney Greta Garbo
Ford and Wayne and all the westerns
Hepburn Davis Charlton Heston

Vertigo and North by North West
Psycho Rear Window and the rest

Films are the best, come in iMax and Dolby
Got to turn it up louder, the projectionist told me
Films are fantastic whether black and white or colour
If you burn a small hole in them, then they might get duller

Connery James Bond Carry On
Hammer Horror
Blaxploitation Peeping Tom
The Sound Of Music Krakatoa

Mary Poppins Michael Caine and Dustin Hoffman Francois Truffaut
Lawrence of Arabia The Graduate
& Mr Hulot

Great Escape La Dolce Vi-talian Job
Butch Cassidy
A Hard Days Night and Kurosawa
Jean Luc Godard Flower power

Planet Of Bonnie and Clyde
The Seventh Seal and Samurai
2001 Ray Harryhausen
Adam West & Barbra Streisand

Jules & Jim and Charles and Di
I’m Spartacus and so am I

Films are superb they come in cinerama
They come in 3D and smellovision, and they do not harm ya
Films are the best, although some are quite rubbish
Some are in a foreign language, so they get a bit dubbish

Great unfinished graphic novel?

Most novelists (writers of comics without pictures) start as amateurs, and most first novels (and many subsequent ones) are written on spec, for no money up front, and nurtured over many years. I know half a dozen people with a novel on the go which may never see publication.

Does anyone treat comics that way? That is to say is anyone sitting on a partly-finished masterpiece, which they're honing and refining, adding to and editing, with the feeling that one day it'll get published then the world will realise what they've been missing?

(I have two half finished comics in just that state, only short things, but rattled off when my Beano work dried up and waiting to see print. I keep meaning to do 50 copies at Ka-Blam in time for the next comic show, then always remember too late. I rattled off a 64 page Socks comic cos I knew I could sell out a print run to fans, but working on spec I find hard to do.)

Anyone sitting on the great unfinished graphic novel out there?

Kev F

PS: Here's a fun item, courtesy of James Parker, producer of the new season of The Sitcom Trials. He's taken all the sweary words from all the scripts entered in this year's Trials and expressed them as a graph:

Thursday 24 September 2009

Job satisfaction

I just finished some comic strip pages and experienced a feeling I'd forgotten about, a real tangible sensation of job satisfaction. It's a buzz, a relief, a feeling of accomplishment, that outstrips any other work related feeling I can summon to mind.

I've not been drawing enough comic strip pages, since the Beano started using me less and the comedy took priority in the last year or so, and I'd forgotten how much I've missed it. Today, as the deadline of home-time approached (yes, on days when I'm in the studio rather than out at a school or away at a gig, we keep beautifully regular domestic tea time hours which see me leaving the studio on the dot of 6pm), I had finished and was scanning the last four pages of a privately commissioned comic strip. And as I walked out of the studio with the pages in my laptop ready to email to the client, I felt that uncanny feeling.

Be it endorphines or what (and I would quite like to know the scientific explanation), the feeling of having finished comic strip pages knocks spots off my other work-day climaxes.

Finishing a day of Comic Art Masterclasses comes close, especially when I've raced to produce the copies of the kids comics on the photocopier and I get to hand them the finished item as they leave. Their thanks and obvious pleasure are great. But it's not as good as finishing pages.

Finishing a script probably comes closest, but the edge is taken off that by the knowledge that there's always rewriting to be done, a script rarely being the finished thing, and the fact that I do far too little script writing. Finishing a Socks script rarely gives me that buzz cos I always know I have to get on with the performing of it before I'll know it's right.

The experience that is far and away the most anti-climactic is finishing a solo theatre tour gig. Alan Davies was talking about this very thing on a chat show this week. You do the gig, everyone laughs, then afterwards they all go home and you're left to pack up and clear off. The most depressing can be a really good theatre with great aucoustics. You've never heard anywhere as silent as an empty theatre with good soundproofing, as you're crouched on the empty stage collecting up your props, emerging fifteen minutes later to find the bar has long closed, the punters even longer gone, and you're alone in the middle of a provincial town whose one chip shop just called it a day through lack of interest.

Ironic that the most solitary of my many activities should provide the most satisfying sensation. Perhaps, and this is another top-of-the-head theory, the fact that I'm able to listen to the radio all day contributes to this feeling. When I'm writing I have to work in silence, ditto selling (emailing and phoning to promote my classes and tours), and of course recording. But comic art has, today and yesterday, enabled me to devour hours of radio 4 and iPlayer including 4 whole episodes of Paul McGann's Doctor Who (a couple surprisingly good), Cowards, Miranda Hart, Heresy, a documentary about backing singers, From Our Own Correspondent, Mitchell & Webb, loads of good stuff.

After I've finished this strip, I hope the feeling keeps my momentum going enough to produce a 64 page Socks comic from scratch to publication in time for Christmas. I feel inspired.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Wiltshire Schools Boys Writing Conference

I don't get asked to speak at many conferences, so I was delighted to be asked to talk yesterday at the Wiltshire Schools Boys Writing Conference. 150 teachers from schools in that county were addressing the problem of literacy and boys, why they struggle in comparison to girls and what approaches can be taken to tackle this.

I was very pleased to find a couple of the speakers, one of whom was presenting the results of a government funded survey on the subject, had made very similar observations to my own, but delivered them in far more impressive academic terms than I can. One key point is the visually-oriented learning that a lot of pupils have, and that I had and still have, which means that the marriage of words and pictures presented in the comic strip is a vital and incomparable learning tool. The speech bubble was what led to me having the best reading age of my school year at primary school. Because, from the age of 5 or 6, I was reading Marvel comics, and seeing overlong words emanating directly from the mouths of these colourful characters. So I could read the visuals and, by association, work out the written words.

That, and many other of the things I pointed out in an overview of my Comic Art Masterclass and comics in general, seemed to chime with a lot of the teachers there, and I hope to be working with one or two of them to develop projects in schools to utilise comics in education in a more structured fashion.

I was left with one task I'd set myself, and that is to come up with a recommended list of comics or graphic novels for libraries. What would I suggest schools get in? It's hard. I can think of one or two classics - Persepolis, Maus - and a couple of failsafes - Asterix, Simpsons comics. But is that really enough?

Here is the list of recommended reading I've doodled, as suggestions for what primary and high schools could get in as graphic literature that would interest someone who has either never read a comic before or who needs encouraging into reading. What would you add?

Manga (Naruto? What else?)
Fables (but beware language, poss not for primary school)
Watchmen (but is it interesting to non genre fan?)
V For Vendetta
Batman - Killing Joke? Year One? Dark Knight Returns? Arkham Asylum?
Simpsons comics
Spiderman (can't name a book myself?)
Ultimates (genre fans only?)
Preacher (poss not for any school, but would try for high school)
Lucky Luke (vanilla, but safe)
The Spirit (or too archaic?)
Alice In Sunderland (poss too academic for kids?)
When The Wind Blows
Ghost Town (too boring for kids?)
American Splendor (ditto?)
Tin Tin
Doonesbury (though I've never met anyone else who likes it)
Sandman (too dated?)

Surely there must be more out there, that requires no prior knowledge of comics and isn't just about superheroes or other comics. Suggestions please.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Colston Hall gig, a Bristol thing

Last night (Monday) I had the pleasure of appearing (in the guise of the Socks) at a comedy gig, launching the revamped Colston Hall in Bristol, organised by the man who has, for the last half dozen years, been Bristol's comedy curator, Mark Olver.

I have long had a cultural cringe when working with comedians. A feeling that I may not be either as famous or, more importantly, as funny as them. There is a pecking order in comedy, regularly refreshed and competed for, and one I've frequently felt out of place in. Especially in Bristol where, from 1994, I was the compere of the Comedy Box and the man who had the privilege of, firstly, being introduced for the first time by Simon Pegg, then having the pleasure of being the first person to welcome to the stage such would-be luminaries as Marcus Brigstocke, Stephen Merchant and the line-up of tonight's show.

Tonight was to be a celebration of Bristol comedy, and Mark had drawn together the best of the last decade's comics to have sprung from this city. Having felt like the Godfather of many of these artists comedy careers I should feel okay in being there, but I'd be the first to say that, on merit, I as a solo artist wouldn't have deserved a place on the bill. But two things won me a slot. My Michael Jackson routine, which anyone who's seen me solo has seen, and the Scottish Falsetto Socks who have not only eclipsed any of my prior work as a comic, but who have also appropriated the aforementioned MJ routine, so Mark knew he could happily have them on the bill, knowing they brought with them my good comedy guise and my one good banker of a routine. That said, we merited 5 minutes on the bill, a brevity of slot matched only by the headliner. (As David Brent would point out, as we were being paid irrelevant of the length of the slot.. well, you do the maths).

What a bill. First act, after a blinding warm up by Mark, was Russell Howard. No one would dare to deny Russell (of whom I was first to say "ladies and gentlemen" etc) is the most successful of our generation. Okay, Russell and Marcus, but actually two critical years separate them. Marcus won the BBC New Comedian Award in 1996, two years before both Russell and Mark emerged, so he's really Bristol pre-history, along with Pegg, Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

Russell opening a night's stand up is a rare thing and by god a hard act to follow. The Colston Hall is also not the easiest room to play. 2000 punters and an indomitable echo stand in comedy's path, but Russell trumped it and rocked the house valiantly.

And that was the start of the night. And no one but no one let the side down from then on. Tom Craine, Sally Ann Hayward, James Dowdeswell, Wil Hodgson, John Robins, Dan Atkinson, the brilliant band Bucky, Ian Cognito, Jared Hardy (and I'm bound to have forgotten someone totally marvellous, sorry) so many acts so good I forgot they even had a Bristol connection. For me the funniest most laugh out loud act was Richard Herring, who I also had the chance to talk comedy with backstage, which very sadly I counted as a much greater privilege than I'm sure he did.

The Socks got away with their set, introduced via video by Mark Watson (who, I didn't hear, but I'm pretty sure didn't mention that the last time I MC'ed for him in Bristol I introduced as Dave Watson). And there was another video piece by another CPF (close personal friend) Stephen Merchant.

The show was closed by a very special appearance by VIP Justin Lee Collins, who was the first to admit his stand-up was not his best feature. Instead of trying comedy he gave us a brilliant karaoke rendition of It's Not Unusual. So, after 4 hours (and 8 costume changes by Mark Olver) an audience went home very happy.

I came away feeling I, and the Socks, had just about held our own with the big boys. Funny that I should feel so much more famous outside of the town where my comedy first flourished. Bristol has a fantastic comedy heritage, heaven knows what the new wave holds.

Monday 21 September 2009



Finalists chosen for The Sitcom Trials 10th Anniversary Season

Hundreds of budding sitcom writers have entered scripts into the new season of The Sitcom Trials, hoping for the chance to compete head to head on the London stage to win the title of Best New Sitcom.

The script readers, led by producer James Parker, have selected the 20 scripts that will appear in the shows, beginning October 19th at London's prestigious Leicester Square Theatre. (full list below)

The shows will be judged both by the audience and by a panel of TV industry experts. Last season's winner Dean Hardman went on as a result to be commissioned by the BBC and this new batch of writers are hoping to prove equally successful.

The Sitcom Trials is celebrating its 10th Anniversary, having begun on stage in Bristol in 1999 with a show that featured a very young comedy legend-to-be, Russell Howard. The show has run in the West End since 1999, enjoyed an 8 week series on ITV, three years at the Edinburgh Fringe and a version staged in Hollywood, with a 2010 Hollywood Sitcom Trials in the pipeline. The Sitcom Trials was created by Kev F Sutherland, who returns to host the new season.

The Sitcom Trials runs at the Leicester Square Theatre every Monday from October 19th 2009, with the Grand Final on December 1st.

TITLE: The Sitcom Trials
VENUE: Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
DATES: Oct 19, 26, Nov 2, 9, 16, 23, Dec 1
TIMES: 6pm & 8.30pm (2 shows per night)
PRICES: £5 (6pm) £10 (8.30pm)

BOX OFFICE: 0844 847 2475


PRESS CONTACT: Kev F Sutherland 07931 810858
Series Producer James Parker



* "Alan Pob - Writing Wrongs" by Saul Wordsworth
* "Assemblage of Evil" by Joe Deacon
* "Baby, it's cold outside" by Peter Higgins
* "Bumboy" by Andy Crick
* "Don't Murder the Messenger" by Allan Payne
* "End to End" by Matt Holt, Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon
* "Future Proof" by Elise Bramich
* "Life as a foreign language" by John Barron and Olly Allsopp
* "Long Term Sick" by Mark Brotherhood
* "Lovely Rocks" by John Seymour
* "My Sister" by Robin Bailes
* "PR a History" by Graeme and Nicky Knowles
* "Prodigies" by Alex Kirk and Simon Messingham
* "The Bar Boys" by Ben Glassman
* "The Johns" by Hugh Travers
* "The Not Gots" by Malcolm Duffy
* "Therapy" by Tom Carter
* "The Second Best Job in the World" by Chris Gilgallon
* "The Spy who Wrapped up Warm" by Jim Speirs & Simon Bristoll
* "Weathermen" by Ken Cheng

Sitcom Trials finalists announced

The 20 finalists of The Sitcom Trials 10th Anniverary Season have been announced.

380 budding sitcom writers entered sitcom scripts, hoping to be chosen to head to head in competition in the Sitcom Trials shows which begin at the Leicester Square Theatre on October 19th, 20 have made the cut.

I'd like to congratulate James and his readers on their script selection. I didn't read any of them until James emailed me the finalists yesterday, and I spent last night reading them all while the entrants were on tenterhooks waiting for the results. There are some very good scripts in there and I look forward to some entertaining shows with some very tight voting decisions to be made.

One thing you might have noticed, and I'm not sure James has mentioned, is that there are 20 finalists, not the 16 you were expecting. Because the Sitcom Trials format has been adhered to closely by the writers we've got entries short enough that we can fit five scripts into every 90 minute show, and we've moved the start times to 6pm and 8.30 to give us extra time if necessary. So that'll be 4 heats showcasing 20 sitcoms, 10 scripts should then go through to the semi finals, and 5 should appear in the final (this is again subject to James leaping in and shouting "No you've got it wrong again you idiot, do you never listen?").

Of course this is scant consolation for the 360 out of 380 entrants whose scripts didn't make the cut, but the good news there is that Sitcom Saturday takes place on a regular basis in London, and Declan & Simon (producers of the last 2 Sitcom Trials competitions) will be looking for entries for their new Sitcommission project very very soon.

Tickets for the Sitcom Trials 10th Anniversary season, beginning October 19th, are now on sale at:

The BSG Forum or will be the places to catch the running order every week, and the results, which will be announced at the end of the second performance of the show every week (as part of the show), and be Twittered afterwards.

Those 20 finalists scripts are, in alphabetical order:

* "Alan Pob - Writing Wrongs" by Saul Wordsworth
* "Assemblage of Evil" by Joe Deacon
* "Baby, it's cold outside" by Peter Higgins
* "Bumboy" by Andy Crick
* "Don't Murder the Messenger" by Allan Payne
* "End to End" by Matt Holt, Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon
* "Future Proof" by Elise Bramich
* "Life as a foreign language" by John Barron and Olly Allsopp
* "Long Term Sick" by Mark Brotherhood
* "Lovely Rocks" by John Seymour
* "My Sister" by Robin Bailes
* "PR a History" by Graeme and Nicky Knowles
* "Prodigies" by Alex Kirk and Simon Messingham
* "The Bar Boys" by Ben Glassman
* "The Johns" by Hugh Travers
* "The Not Gots" by Malcolm Duffy
* "Therapy" by Tom Carter
* "The Second Best Job in the World" by Chris Gilgallon
* "The Spy who Wrapped up Warm" by Jim Speirs & Simon Bristoll
* "Weathermen" by Ken Cheng

Sunday 20 September 2009

Next Big British Comic, continued

The Guardian's comic reprints last week exercised a lot of discussion on the comic groups I read, and I threw in my two penn'orth. Here were some thoughts I shared:

Lew Stringer wrote:
> Here's a question: I know a lot of comic fans would rather eat their
> own eyeballs than read a British comic, and didn't even read them as
> children. What was it that put you off them and what would encourage
> you to buy a new type of comic for your kids?

I wrote: This is the hard question. I can answer for myself, what I'd buy. But that's
pointless, cos I'm a 47 year old man (so old that I just had to work out how old
I am on my fingers, I genuinely didn't immediately know!) and I'm not the

I get positive responses from the kids I teach to new comics that actually
exist. They respond to Marvel superhero comics (which I get randomly from the
£1-for-5 box at FP), they like things like IDW's Transformers comic, based on
the cartoon, and anything with string dazzlingly imagery like that. That draws
them into the stories and they would read more (but not, I think, at £2.50 a
pop, and since they have no comic shop near them they don't get to browse). Some
older ones react the same to Manga, and in the case of Manga they do buy it. If
I find a manga reader they're most often female, they usually have one friend
who also reads manga, and they've usually started collecting lots of books and
have got the school library to get them in. (Naruto is very big in a good few
high school libraries).

So, from my anecdotal research, I'd say stuff as exciting as that would capture
8 to 12 year olds, and Beano already captures 6 to 10 year olds. I feel I can
envisage the content that would grab the audience, and I think I know where to
find the creators who can deliver it.

So could the DFC.

As for what puts people off comics. I'd say limitations put people off comics.
Strips that are restricted to a narrow genre, eg superheroes. That puts me off
and must put most people off.

It's like turning on your TV and getting a choice of Daredevil, The League Of
Extraordinary Gentlemen, Batman & Robin, Tank Girl and Elektra. You'd soon start
to think TV was a crap invention.

Ditto comics just for kids. The Beano and Dandy have, to their credit, let some
literate writers sneak some tolerable and challenging work under the wire in the
last decade, but it's still the exception that proves the rule. If all the
writing aspired to be as good as Asterix, I could defend it without question.
But when the average strip is Ball Boy or Pirates Of The Caribeano, it deserves
the scorn it gets.

Bryan Talbot wrote:
> Just a thought - seeing as the DFC sold in tiny numbers, if a widely
> distributed free comic was published, it could keep initial costs down by
> picking up the quality strips from there at a fraction of the cost of new
> ones and reprint them, along with new material.

I wrote: Okay, here's a guesstimate at the maths. A comic, distributed around the country
so we get it into the hands of half a million kids. That's going to cost about
50,000 pounds a week. It's a rough guesstimate but it's not far off.

Someone tell me how realistic that is, and we could build the model from there.

Lew Stringer wrote:
> ...I've always felt that kids
> drop comics like a stone once they feel they're too old for them. No
> child wants to be seen reading something they consider is "too babyish".

I wrote: I find many kids, especially teenage boys, do this with all reading material.
Reading any book is uncool for many 13 year old boys, whether it's a comic,
graphic novel, Philip Pullman or Dostoyevsky.

But you can still excite the young (7 to 12) and engage the engage-able (12+
smart kid, also reads novels and still watches Doctor Who), while gaining the
respect of the old. I really believe it's do-able. It's just the "getting out
there" (which covers more than just "marketing") and the devil in the detail of
the content (ie it has to be something that someone of my age probably can't
conceive of).

John Ridgway" wrote:
> Take a look at to see what they are doing. It is still
early days for them and they are limiting themselves to Dutch and Belgium
contributors, but it seems to me they have a decent balance for the content. 36
pages per issue, fortnightly, 4 euroes.

I wrote: Just flipped through Eppo Stripblad (they have a nifty flash-animated flip
through version on screen). It looks very trad European, I've bought similar
comics in Spain, Norway and France. It's great, and in a long established
tradition. But some of those strips are so old, boring and starchy (there's a
reprint of Beetle Bailey which si not the oldest looking thing in there) that
they'd only have a market if the habit of reading comics had remained unbroken
for the last 50 years.

So our equivalent of Eppo Blad is The Broons & Oor Wullie Section in The Sunday

I don't think that's the model I'd use to relaunch comics in the 21st century,
but it's a good reminder that our artform lives, just not over here.

chebbo@ wrote:
> I do think it would need to be in newsagents though to have any hope of
> finding a large readership or at the very least in comic shops.

I wrote: Newsagents are prohibitively expensive to get into. That is why most comics are
now a plastic bag containing a toy and a comic that looks like it was put in as
an afterthought.

And most people don't have a comic shop.

beeemcee@... wrote:
> I've been looking at ideas for launching a British comic for the past year
> or so. I set up the distribution and print deal for Crikey! Magazine ...

I wrote: I said I'd seen Crikey in our Borders, and I'm delighted that it seems so
relatively inexpensive. Is it approaching break even? And are you going to be
able to do it bi-monthly, or even monthly?

I think Borders, though there's not one in every town, could be a perfect way to
start. I remember how Viz had to grow in the late 80s despite being shut out of
Smiths. So I soon learnt the newsagents where Viz could be found, usually dodgy
ones full of porn mags, then it found its way into Virgin record stores, and
finally WH Smith saw how strong the sales were and let it in, then it sold a

So great oaks from small acorns. Nice work Brian.


I wrote: We've talked a lot about the Guardian comics facsimiles this week (today's
Whizzer & Chips is brilliant by the way, and yesterday's Tammy included a strip
by Jim Baikie), but has anyone suggested the obvious thing?

If the money can be found to print an old facsimile, why can't we run new
comics? I mean a comic edition of the Dandy or Toxic or 2000AD in Saturday's
paper, with clear instructions that if you liked that you should go to the
newsagents and get it every week, or subscribe, or "place an order" as we used
to say.

I know the DFC sort of did that, but then they sort of didn't. They ran small
serialised samples of their strips in the Guardian and took months before the
"DFC" teaser was explained. Then, if the readers were hooked by then, they told
them to fork out 30 quid or forget it. Whereas other existing comics are easier
to get.

Maybe it's too obvious and there's some problem, just saying.

Lew wrote:
> Exactly. Also, Beetle Bailey and other newspaper strips are actually
> quite popular in some countries and quite often turn up in weekly/
> monthly comics. Different tastes and all that. I mean, even the
> bloomin' Phantom is massive in Norway and Australia but it's never
> really worked here in the UK.

I wrote: That's the strength and the curse of British comics. We love the new and get
easily bored of the old. So while your Europeans will still endlessly devour
Carl Barks Donald Duck, Beetle Bailey, and stuff that looks a lot like it did in
the 1960s, we've always wanted to move on.

That's where the 2000AD creators came from, and the waves that followed them,
but that's why we grew tired of Tammy, Jackie, Bunty, Tiger, Eagle et al as soon
as they grew unfashionable.

You can see a parallel in music. France and Norway have a vibrant folk music
scene, far outselling their new modern music. In this country anyone who dons a
woolly jumper and whips out an accordion is rightly frowned upon.

In the country comics have to be the new rock & roll, we have no room for old

John Freeman wrote:

Do you set out to be offensive when you put to paper, Kev, or are you simply
ignorant? Because you just managed it. There's a massively popular folk scene in
the UK - I'm not a fan, personally, but there is. As for your comment about old
people, you're not exactly a spring chicken.

I've read your posts over the past couple of years here with increasing
irritation: you drop in with some comment as if you're the only person who know
about it, ignoring the huge amount of work the Forbidden Planet International
team, Lew Stringer, Baz Renshaw and myself - and many others - have been doing
to promote British comics, even though you tell me you're aware of it. Now
you've labelled anything presumably not being drawn by anyone under the age of
25 (or 12, perhaps) as 'old' and by implication, outdated. By that logic, we
shouldn't be reading Grandville, anything by Alan Moore and much of 200AD.

British comics has always been a wider church than you appear to think it is,
with a huge number of vibrant creators of all ages.

It wasn't the fault of the creators that the comics you cite went out of
fashion, it was the editors and publishers behind them who got stuck in their

If I've misinterpreted your comments, my apologies, but your latest post finally
made me lose my rag.

I replied:

> Do you set out to be offensive when you put to paper, Kev, or are you simply

Ignorant, that'd be me.

No, of course I regularly try and boil my comments down to simplistic soundbites
to stimulate the debate, and often play devil's advocate.

Comparing old fashioned looking comics to folk music I thought illustrated the
point I was trying to make, while inevitably being rude to people who like old
fashioned looking comics and/or folk music (and as anyone who reads my Facebook
posts knows, I like some execrable 1970s music and seem to read nothing but old
comics, so who am I to talk).

To the future. I am inspired by the talk here of working towards a new
mainstream comic (which is, I think, what people are talking up). May I throw my
ignorant and annoying hat in the ring?


Before I cast myself as some sort of ageist, I want to make it clear I'm not.
The new wave of Beano creators are Laura, Gary, Lew and Hunt, whose average age
is, well my age (two are older two are younger). It's not their age that marks
them out as vital and innovative, it's their attitude.

Some of the comic creators whose work I most admire, Lee+Kirby, Carl Giles,
Uderzo+Goscinny, did their best stuff in their 40s and 50s. And Bryan is a fine
example of someone whose work simply gets better with every piece, as happens
with so many film directors and novelists.

So when I characterised comics that fell from popularity when they fell from
fashion I was bemoaning their lack of originality, not the age of their
contributors. Just thought I'd spell that out in an irony-free post.

Kev F

Friday 18 September 2009

In praise of the Walnut Tree, Maidstone

Last night we returned to the Walnut Tree in Maidstone, having played there in 2007. It's a unique venue with a set up which suggests it shouldn't work, but which does work and has done for coming up to 20 years.

It's a stage in the corner of a pub, and nobody pays to get in. That is usually a recipe for disaster, for comedians being undervalued or ignored. Also, instead of the usual compere and 2 or 3 comics, you get one act doing 45 minutes solo. Who's going to sit through that you think. Especially since the act doesn't start till 9.30 at night, by which time your punters will be well merry and a nightmare to try and quieten down.

But no, not at the Walnut Tree. Because here they have a tradition, stretching back to 1990, whereby they have invited in up and coming comedians and given them a good hearing. Photos on the wall attest to early appearances by the likes of Bill Bailey, Ed Byrne, Jimmy Carr, Catherine Tate and many many more, all of whom have been warmly received by a faithful comedy-friendly crowd. And last night was no different.

If there's one factor that sometimes runs more smoothly in bigger venues, it is the technical back up. For sound cues, an act like the Socks has to rely on the CD player behind the bar being operated, in slightly subdued light, by Peter the owner. This can be entertaining in itself, as his clip from last night demonstrates:

I look forward to returning there sometime in the future, and urge all Maidstonians to make a bee-line there every Thursday. You won't regret it.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Will there be another British comic?

The nostalgic reprints of old comics in this week's Guardian has prompted a lot of reflection, with we old comics lovers remembering how great and influential the comics of our childhood were, and bemoaning their loss.

But what can the future of British comics possibly hold? I teach comic art to kids all over the country and find a few things to be universally true. Firstly that kids love comics. When they are shown a pile of comics they seize upon them and want to have more to look at. Aged 8 to 12 in particular they will pass them around saying "have you seen this?", marvelling at the artwork and getting engrossed in the stories.

Secondly they love producing comics. Once I've shown them how simple it is to tell a story in pictures, and the various tricks and techniques which mean you don't have to be the greatest artist yet to communicate clearly in our artform, I find stories regularly flow from kids who've had difficulty expressing themselves in words alone.

As an aside to this, the power of comic strip as a teaching tool for literature is undeniable, and quite a revelation to teachers I work with. I quote the example of my schooldays when, in primary school, I had the best reading age of my class because I'd read since the age of 5 Marvel comics. This meant I'd seen words like "thermonuclear device" and because the words came very clearly, in a voice bubble, from the mouth of say The Hulk or Spider-Man, I could easily work out their context and guess at what they meant. Kids picture books, where the words are over here and the pictures are over there and never the twain shall meet, simply do not teach kids to read as well as a comic strip with voice bubbles does.

To return to my point, the third thing I find in schools is that hardly any kids have read any comics. If anything they've read the Beano. Though that is predominately a middle class or Scottish thing. In England, and especially among more working class kids, if I ask them to name a comic or a comic strip they mostly likely name a cartoon off TV or a magazine. They are almost totally unfamiliar with the artform called the comic strip. And if they do read The Beano, what do they do when they've outgrown that? A lucky few go on to read Simpsons comics, and a small number of teenagers become readers of Japanese Manga. One in 100 reads US comics, most not even being aware that Spider-Man and Batman started life as comics. Where, they ask me, would you buy a Batman comic? And in most cases, unless they live in one of the few towns with a comic shop, I can't answer them.

So what could we do about comics? Is it worth reviving them, and if so how? Obviously I think it is. I think if we allow this artform to die, so that everyone in the UK will be as unable to read a comic strip as those idiots they got to review them on Radio 4's Front Row last week (2 out of 3 reviewers, of Bryan Talbot's Grandville & Ian Rankin's Constanine, professed some perverse pride in their ignorance of the comic strip artform and made me want to slap their posh bookish heads) then we are committing a cultural crime akin to never staging an opera ever again, just because they're too expensive to stage and hardly anyone goes to see them. Other artforms have their champions, from poetry and folk music to opera and dance, so why not comics?

I've given it my stabs over the year, and I think I probably won't be bothering again in a hurry. My two best efforts to revive comics publishing were both overambitious and under-supported.

The first was The Big Comic.

In 1991, seeing the profusion of free papers that were coming through letterboxes nationwide, I re-envisioned the old American notion of the syndicated comic section. Essentially I took Will Eisner's Spirit section idea, and presented it to the free papers. Only one bit, the Weston Super Mare Admag, who ran a four page section with strips interspersed by ads, for one week, before being told by their head office that they weren't allowed to show such initiative. The syndication model, which meant the papers paid for the art based on the circulation figures that they published on their front cover, would have meant the strips costing next to nothing to each paper, while reaching potential millions of readers, and forming an attraction that set their free paper apart from the rival in their local market. Oh it was genius. But no publisher agreed with me, most of these papers being run by a small number of parent companies who had their marketing strategies all thought through. And of course now, with the development of the internet and the financial slump, free papers are history, and the Big Comic's entire premise a nice idea that could never work now.

My second concept was to avoid the newsagents and to sell a comic on the streets.

My starting point for Street Comic was "imagine if the Big Issue was good and you actually wanted to buy it for its content, not just out of middle class guilt". I still feel this idea has legs, and maybe someone will make a fortune selling comics in the streets of Britain. I researched it, and it's do-able. But if anything put me off, it was the DFC.

You see I assembled a dummy for Street Comic, and for all the world, it seems to me pretty much identical to what The DFC came up with. I mean to say the two comics were totally different, the DFC never saw my dummy or anything (we had one creator in common, the brilliant Laura Howell), but editorially we had the same idea. And that idea was quite old fasioned. We'd invented an anthology comic, like had existed in our childhood, with a mix of comedy and action, a little bit bandes-dessinee, a little bit Eagle. And of course the DFC bombed, despite being of the highest quality. And someone somewhere is 100s of thousands of pounds out of pocket over that noble experiment, which is not something I can afford to be.

So, if I've given up on creating the next great British comic, who's going to? I wait to be surprised.

Oh my poor poor artform (continued)

I agree the Guardian's week of comics is fun and nostalgic and we should enjoy it for what it is. The factual inaccuracies and historical ignorance of a subject that we the comics cognoscenti know so well is only to be expected. In the corrections column you'll find many articles get many subjects wrong, and that's in instances where the facts are actually well documented. In the case of comics, where does our history lie, except scattered in a very few academic books (we get one a decade if we're lucky) and in fanzines.

Wikipedia holds some information about some comics history, but you already have to know what you're looking for. A comprehensive joined-up history of comics is impossible to find, and where would you begin?

Those of us who were raised on and then worked in British comics are regularly frustrated to realise that our comics remain virtually unknown outside of our tiny island. With the exception of the comics talent Brain Drain that began in the 80s, and which has resulted in 75% of Brits earning a living in comics doing so on American money, our strips have rarely if ever travelled.

Which means the Americans have heard of only one Dennis The Menace, the wrong one, and are aware of Judge Dredd as a naff movie and a short lived series of comics that no-one bought in the 80s. Talk to anyone in Spain, Norway, France or anywhere else they hold comic festivals that we occasionally get invited to and you'll find they've heard of random and bizarre things from Brit comic history (The Trigan Empire, Dan Dare and the IPC girls strips seem to have been very big in Norway in the 1970s) but never anything you want them to have heard of, like The Bash Street Kids.

Talking of factual inaccuracy, I was brought into schools last year when, at the 11th hour, teachers on the Media Studies course realised comics and graphic novels were part of a module, so I had to give the kids a quick catch up. I saw the teachers notes, provided by the exam board. They were riddled with inaccuracies, including attributing drawings to the wrong artists, attributing characters to the wrong publishers, getting comics dates out by decades, and largely skimming over Brit comics. Given that they had about 5 pages to cover the entire history of comics this is hardly surprising.

And the task the pupils had to perform to show their understanding of comics was to design a front cover. Pathetic. That's like showing you understand car mechanics by designing a number plate. Oh my poor poor beloved artform, what does your future hold?

Tuesday 15 September 2009

In praise of Doctor Who Magazine's comic strips

Re Dr Who Magazine (in response to email for fanzine)

I used to write & draw The Comic Assassins strip in Dr Who Magazine and I now do the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, as well as dreaming of writing Dr Who (though I'd have to do more actual writing to make that become a reality).

As someone who bought Dr Who Weekly No 1 and still has it, complete with stickers, I have to say it's meant a very great deal for me for longer than most people have been alive. The Wagner/Mills/Gibbons strips still stand the test of time, and in fact I was just enjoying reading the Steve Parkhouse/Mick McMahon strip in an IDW reprint last weekend. A high watermark for our artform.

The John Ridgway illustrated strips for Colin Baker's era still remain the one period where the strips were genuinely better, in pretty much every way, than the TV show itself at the time. I wish more fans were aware of them and considered their "canonical" status, instead of wittering on about novels and audio dramas. I recently re-read the Peter Davison era strips and was struck by just how many ideas from there had clearly left their mark on the young Russell T Davies. Half a dozen planets joined together in a big planet-joined-together doom machine, anyone?

I fear I lost touch with DWM when the show went off air in 1989, which coincided with me no longer working for the mag, and I felt being a Dr Who fan to be a bit sad and nerdy for a decade or so. When it returned, and John Ross's brilliant strips began in Dr Who Adventures, it was like a second childhood, and I find those strips to be some of the most exciting work being published today. I comic I can give an 8 year old to read is a rare thing these days. One which is brilliant and stars the Doctor, doubly so. If we could only sort out some comic strips with Daleks and Cybermen in, all would be perfect with the world.

How to put on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe

I've just been emailed by someone asking how to go about putting a show in in Edinburgh (planning for 21010, obviously). I thought this would be a good place to rehearse my answer. What would your advice be, fellow Fringers?

Firstly, I assume he means the Edinburgh Fringe. Speaking as someone who plays in Edinburgh the rest of the year ( I was there throughout December last year, and popped up in Feb, April, and July too), I still fall in to the trap of saying "Edinburgh" when I mean "that period in August where lots of idiots from the south of England take over Edinburgh and forget it exists the rest of the year". But let's plan to do Edinburgh, knowing what we all mean.

First thing to do is have a show ready. Maybe others would advise differently, but I would say that if you go up to the Fringe and try and play for an hour without being good enough or ready to fill an hour, then you are likely to put on a bad show that you won't enjoy and might regret. That said, both Frank Skinner and Jonny Vegas leapt in at the deep end like that, and it didn't hurt them. On the other side of the coin there are some shows on at the Free Fringe and Free Festival (and one I saw at the Gilded Balloon this year) which show that I'm right.

Next thing to do is find a venue. The aforementioned Free Fringe & Festival are a good place to start. They won't charge you to play, though there are other costs (see below), and they make taking part in the Fringe very easy, Google their respective websites. They support mostly comedy, and your show will benefit from being on at the same venue as other shows. Increasingly FF shows include high quality shows by good talents, so I'd recommend them for a first timer.

Then come the venues which will cost you. Whether you go with the "big 4", Pleasance, Gilded Balloon, Underbelly or Assembly Rooms, or Just The Tonic, GRV, C Venues, Tron or similar, you will have to pay to hire the venue, and will end up getting a share of the door takings if you take more than the cost of the venue hire. In the case of an average GB or Pleasance space, that will be around £1000 a week for 3 weeks. So if you sell 3 grand's worth of tickets (at 10 quid each, that's 300 tickets, or a dozen a day) you'll be nominally in profit. Other spaces cost less.

But you need to pay to be in the Fringe prog (£600), play for accommodation (I hire a flat for £1500, you can pay a lot less, I once got a place for £150 a week), print posters and flyers, and live for a month. So costs can mount up. But it's do-able, and I love doing it. I've made money and I've lost money, and I'm sure anyone who's done the Fringe more than once will say similar.

Any other advice folks?

In Praise of Philippe Starck's "Apprentice"

I liked Philippe Starck's "Design Apprentice" last night on BBC2 (actually called School Of Design, where budding designers compete to work for him).

Now I will admit I also like the actual Apprentice (with Sir Alan Sugar), it being the reality show you can follow in one hour bursts that are full of detail, and you get it over with in a few short weeks. I admire its manipulative editing and its crass light entertainment that manages to pass itself off as in some way informative and insightful, and I have no doubt School Of Design will amount to the same shallow froth.

However I will stand up and shout the praises of SOD (someone didn't think that acronym through) far more than I ever would the Apprentice for one simple reason, I value the end product.

The Apprentices manque are striving for a job, a boring job, as a lowly drone in the Amstrad business empire whose only aim from there can be to work themselves up. To where? The top of the Amstrad business empire. Just how worth the effort is that? Which small child when asked what they want to be when they grow up says I want to be quite big in a company that makes, er, naff computer peripherals and owns some property. There really is only one thing on offer in the Apprentice and it is, a long way down the career line from the end of the show, lots of money.

Whereas School Of Design's raison d'etre is design. So at every step the contestants are thinking, doing, practising, and leading the viewer to think about design. And design is a good thing. Albeit there is good design and bad design, as this first episode concentrated on demonstrating, either way the very existence of design is something that advances cultural thought.

And more than that, design gives. Every design does something for everyone else, it is intended to be used or rejected by a consumer, whereas money, the raison d'etre of the Apprentice, doesn't. In competing to become part of Philippe Starck's team, each contestant wants to share their undeniable talent and ability with the world and, though they obviously hope to make their living doing so, their first concern is creating works of design that have never existed before and making the world a richer place through their efforts.

Whereas the Apprentices want to make money and they want to keep that money. They are greedy, self-serving, competitive people whose aim is to be richer than other people and who see anyone who doesn't compete with them as losers.

So, to sum up, the Apprentice is evil and a cancer in the heart of society, and School Of Design is good and beautiful. The end. Signed Kev.

Monday 14 September 2009

Facsimile comics in the Guardian, nice idea but...

Every day this week the Guardian and Observer are running facsimile editions of classic British comics. Today's Roy Of The Rovers is a brilliant facsimile and fun to read, but I have one big problem with these comics in the Guardian - they make it look like comics were crap!

We've had a Beano from 1980 and a Roy Of The Rovers from 1981. The Beano shows that precious little has changed in its storytelling style in 29 years and is pleasantly nostalgic, but the Roy, ostensibly for an older reader, is atrocious. The artwork is as dull as comic art has ever been and the storytelling style wouldn't have been out of place in a 1950s Tiger comic.

This is a comic from December 1981. A time when 2000AD was at a high, with Alan Moore's Time Twisters & Robo Tales, Wagner & Grant's Judge Dredd and Pat Mill's Nemesis. This is the very month Warrior was launched, with V For Vendetta and Marvelman. I vaguely recall StarLord or Tornado may still have been going, certainly the relaunched Eagle was. And Dave Gibbons was drawing some of the best Dr Who strips there have ever been.

And what do the Guardian show the public, as the state of the art of comics in 1981? Roy of the bloody Rovers. I cannot imagine a single person looking at that travesty of comic art being in the least bit surprised that Britain doesn't have a comics industry any more if, at our peak, that's the best we could do.

It's like summing up the best TV of 1981 by showing an episode of Triangle.

And don't get me started on the article in Saturday's Guardian Guide about Misty comic. If we're setting records for factual inaccuracy, (how about the suggestion that Sid's Snake was the first animal in a comic strip because they'd previously been banned because they scared kids?) My poor poor favourite artform.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

New Socks comic, sounds likely

It was this time last year that I started producing the first Socks Comic, and it's proven popular. I mean it's only sold coming up to 200 copies, which is hardly a publishing empire in the making, but it's got 100% positive feedback, and whenever people get a chance, they buy it.

There's been a lot of talk about publishing and selling a Socks Christmas Card this year, so maybe I should just go the whole hog and produce a second Socks comic book. There's certainly the material waiting to be adapted.

2008's Socks comic (or should I call it the 2009 Socks Annual?) contained strip adaptations of our sketches Halloween, Torchwool, Deforestation, Primeval, Life On Mars and Romeo & Juliet. And looking at the set list from SFSPT Goes To Hollywood I can see that we have, waiting to be adapted:

James Bond
Star Wars
Word Association
Facebook Song
Racing/Parliament/Love Story

On top of which I have "Space Journey" which is a Socks strip that I wrote purely as a comic strip 2 years ago, and have neither performed nor published anywhere. I've drawn it in a simple newspaper strip style, but I think that's definitely getting drawn up in full comic style for the new book.

And then there's 12 Days Of Christmas. We performed that every night from Nov 30 to Jan 6th in Edinburgh last year and it would make either a cracking chapter in the comic, or even a stand-alone Christmas card.

If I can get the buyers (and you know I think I can) one or other or both of these projects seems like a goer. I've been bursting to draw comics again, and the Christmas card I'm currently drawing for a client has got my scribbler's head back into gear.

So, the second annual Socks Annual is very nearly underway. Do I have any takers out there?

Monday 7 September 2009

The Swine Flu Song

This song was a hit in our Edinburgh show, though its apocalyptic warning seems to have been unfounded, so far. Enjoy. I've annotated the video for your extra viewing pleasure.

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