Sunday 28 February 2010

BBC 3 sport - an idea

Thinking more about the cuts to the BBC and where they should be made. First question is whether we need an inquiry into the role of talent agents and agencies in the cost of talent and the jobs for the boys culture that has arisen. I can't research at the moment, but is it not the case that certain talents who seem ubiquitous on TV often turn out to be represented by the same companies. Someone look into Big Brother, Saturday night ITV, Friday night BBC, Avalon, Open Mike, Princess and Off The Kerb for me would you. I'm sure I'm imagining any sort of correlation, but it would be nice to know. The facts.

Then there's BBC 3. I have a personal bugbear about sport disrupting mainstream programming. And I also wonder what BBC 3 is for a lot of the time. I champion its new drama ( though it's regularly outclassed by BBC 4 in that regard) and it's attempts at new comedy ( though since I've not been on there since 2008 I await an improvement in that regard). But how many repeats of Dr Who and Family Guy do we really need? And why is BBC 3 (& 4) off air before 7pm?

Could we not, as was done with Five Live, turn BBC 3 into the default channel for BBC sport? So when snooker overruns or there is a football match that drunken blokes simply
must not miss, we bump an episode of Dog Borstal instead of having to move Eastenders and scrub BBC 1's Friday night schedule as happened this week

I commend BBC 3 Live for your consideration.

Saturday 27 February 2010

BBC 6 music et al

The debate rages over proposed cuts to the BBC with serious suggestion that radio stations 6music and Asian network could go. Also a curb on US imports and some sport. In today's Guardian writers speak mostly in defence of the threatened output, though two manage to slag off George Lamb (who does sound like a bit of a tosser) and two cite Two Pints of Lager as something they'd rather see cancelled. Which is amusing in a schadenfreudey way but doesn't answer the question; what BBC services would you cut or trim?

And it seems hard to avoid personal taste. I, naturally, would not miss it if all sport moved onto Sky immediately. Having had an exceptional amount of telly ruined by rugby, football, olympics and bloody darts in recent weeks (a level of interference that usually only happens in the summer) I can't wait to see the Beeb's shared of sport decimated, but I realise I'm in a low-testosteroney minority.

So one has to look at what the BBC should offer and whether it is provided elsewhere. In defending US imports in today's Guardian, Licy Mangan mentions 6 shows that we couldn't do without, not realising that three of them weren't on the BBC in the first place. So that argument self-defeated, the caption mentions MadMen has critical praise but low ratings, the suggestion being that means it shouldn't be on the Beeb when , of course, that is the very definition of something that should be.

What shouldn't be on the BBC then? My quick list:

any radio 1, 2 or 6 show that is duplicated by a national commercial station. I figure some shows on all networks would be threatened by that, but those that are the more eclectic and the less indulgent of egos and wannabes would prosper. Asian network could just lose some hours.

Family Guy. I love it, but it is also on cable. End of argument there.

Any sport with advertisers logos in the middle of the pitch in that trompe l'oiel style that does my eyes in. Also anything with sponsor's name in title or visible throughout. That's simply not public service content, it's commercial content. How much money have we saved so far?

The bloody lottery and any shows about doing up and selling houses. And cookery. If there's anything that (channel) five was invented for, it's that lot.

And I'd quite like someone to stop Jools Holland playing honky Tonk piano along whoever he chooses and replace him with a tv show dedicated to new music. And I'd vote for bringing back Top of the Pops but that's another story.

Those are my random thoughts, ta for listening.

Idling in Edinburgh

Hev and I are tapping away on our respective iPods ahead of a day out in Edinburgh setting up her new exhibition. Crocodilopolis (for that is the exhibition's name) follows Hev's Abscission show of 2009 wherein she hid small sculptures around the city and invited people to find them and either re-position them or keep them, photograph them etc.

Abscission (google it) was inspired by a story of dolls in coffins found on Arthurs Seat in the 1850s and which also, she learnt, had inspired a book by Ian Rankin (The Falls, a Rebus story which I'm reading now as it happens). Crocodilopolis is inspired by her visit to Egypt where, in the school she was working with, they had a Nile crocodile in the school pond. Let her tell you the story someday, she tells it better than me.

So we will be secreting artworks (well she will be, I'll be watching) and tomorrow we set up an installation in the Total Kunst gallery beside the Forest cafe which you'll be able to enjoy from Monday.

And it's freezing outside which is why we're happily procrastinating on our nice warm iPods.

Monday 22 February 2010

Socks interview - Channel M Manchester

While the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre were touring in the north, playing Preston and Bury, we did an interview on Manchester's Channel M. This is how it looked:

Sunday 21 February 2010

Gig reports - Socks tour starts good

Am I Polyanna? I'm so Glass-Half-Full that I consider it good luck that my car's broken down and I'm waiting for the AA.

Because, for once, I'm taking advantage of HomeStart, actually waiting in my own lounge for the AA to arrive. It won't start, and I'm at home, that is literally what it says on the card, how perfect is that? And it could have been so different.

I could have been waiting for the AA outside a roadside Premier Inn on the Blackpool Road out of Preston. Or I could have been waiting outside the even more remote Birch Hotel near Bury. Or horror of horrors I could have been in the car park of Aberystwyth University, still facing a three hour round-midnight drive home.

But no, my dear beloved car lets me get through those three nights of touring and waits until Sunday morning to give up the ghost (hopefully just flat battery, but could be as bad as a broken alternator or starter motor, we'll see).

I have, you see, returned from a three night run of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, in Preston, Bury and Aberystwyth, and they were so totally enjoyable I am in a good mood that can only be dented by a big car repair bill or some unforeseen disaster that I'm sure isn't far ahead.

Each gig has included a surprise or pleasant meeting. Preston, at the Continental, the show is run by a nice chap called Robin, who I ended up roping into doing my sound. He looked and sounded so familiar I simply had to ask him "are you related to Bryan Talbot?" Bryan is a legendary comic writer & artist with a distinctive face and a strong Preston accent. And I realised as I said it how possibly insulting it was to suggest that someone might be related to someone else just cos of looking a bit like them and having a Preston accent. Lots of people have a Preston accent, and I daresay a good few of them look a bit sullen and intense with a well hidden smile. But I asked him, all the same, was he related to Bryan Talbot?

"He's my dad" he replied.

The next night in Bury, the Socks were performing in the studio theatre (which we sold out, thankyou very much) while in the main theatre were Stackridge, a band two of whose members I've known for years. They were in a hurry and flustered having endured the same twice-as-long-as-needs-be journey up the M6 I'd had to go through the previous day, but I got the chance to say a brief hello to Andy Davies. Sadly I missed James Warren, who I don't think I've seen since his wedding. So hi Jim, hope it was a good gig, ours was.

Then the best surprise meeting of all was at Aberystwyth Arts Centre where I was shown to my venue by the Front Of House manager and recognised her instantly. It was Sue Jones-Davies, formerly of Rock Follies and the woman who played Judith in Life Of Brian. Most recently she'd been on the TV in her role as Mayor of Aberystwyth, which job she kept till 2009, and during which time she overturned the longstanding ban on Life Of Brian which the city had forgotten it had placed back in 1979 and not revoked.

As for the shows themselves, they were the best bit, as you'd hope. Preston Continental is a cracking venue, a barn sized extension to a pub, in which a lot of arts theatre takes place and which 80 or so punters fill quite nicely, making a grand noise for Ali Cook first, followed by The Socks (this tour is going out as a double bill in the main, Preston being the first such night).

Bury & Preston both involved a compere called Paul, who runs the regular comedy nights there and wanted to maintain some continuity and brand awareness to we were happy for him to MC for us. However in Bury that didn't work in our favour, as our audience had quite a few youngsters for whom his material was, well let's say inappropriate. That misfire coupled with a contingent of the audience with special educational needs meant Ali Cook struggled to hit the right note with the crowd and only really got them warmed up halfway through. The pure magic worked, but the comedy was falling on silence, which isn't what you want to hear from the dressing room (a dressing that smelled, and probably still does, of Duck wee, but that's another story).

However Ali must have warmed them up well by the end because the Socks had a rapturous response and a perfect show, with adlibs springing up throughout, and laughs in all the right places.

Aberystwyth boded babdly when I saw the venue. A unique echo chamber, the studio theatre is round with a conical ceiling, not unlike an oast house. Looks lovely from the outside, but creates an aucoustic effect whereby if you stand in the middle of the room and shout, your voice is sucked up to the heavens and bounced down as if spoken down a drainpipe. And the seating is arranged to that the Socks set would either be a million miles from the crowd, or have to be stood so close to them they'd walk in and see behind the set (not a good idea for the Socks show). I solved this at the eleventh hours by getting cabaret style tables and chairs laid out for punters to sit on. It worked and we went well.

And, after two night away, I then drove home from Aberystwyth to North Somerset, three hours overnight. And the car started perfectly.

So phew. Thanks to everyone who came, you were great. The average audience size so far is knocking spots off either of our last two tours. And thanks to my car for waiting till now to break down. Now the AA man is, I'm told, 15 minutes away. I await the worst...

Kev F & The Socks

PS: It seems to have been some loose fuses in the car. AA man couldn't find prob with spark plug, fuel, battery, but pushed the fuses in a bit and everything's worked fine since. Famous last words...

Thursday 18 February 2010

Heavy socks giggery commences

Hi Scottish Falsetto Socks fans. Don't forget some heavy gigging starts this week. Tell any of your friends or contacts who live near these venues to come see our show:

Feb 18 Preston Continental (+Ali dbl bill)

Feb 19 Bury Met (+ Ali dbl bill) - SOLD OUT!!!!!!!!!!!

Feb 20 Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8pm £8

Feb 23 Taunton (support slot, Cafe Mambo)

Feb 25 – Farnham Maltings (+Ali dbl bill) 8pm £10

And check out our latest video, a song which we hope doesn't come true during any of these gigs:

See you all soon we hope - love, The Socks

Friday 12 February 2010

Operation Farnham, Feb 25 - Go go go!

Initiate Operation Farnham!

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre's show at Fanrham Maltings Theatre on Feb 25 has only sold 8 tickets! Here are the details:

(In contrast our show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, which isn't on till April, has half sold out.) So Farnham falls into a strange hole. Does no-one live there? Are they all doing something else that night? Socks fans, it's up to us to sort this situation out!

Do you know anyone who lives in Farnham, or in nearby Guildford, Woking, Basingstoke, Winchester, or any point inbetween? Then tell them the Socks are coming, give them the link to the theatre (above) and let's sell this baby out!

Tell everyone you know, the Socks are going to rock Farnham! We're counting on your help (there are now over 1000 members to this group, so through six degrees of separation there's no-one we don't know. So somebody must know someone in Fanrham, QED). Sell Sell Sell!

Thanks, and love

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre
The rest of the tour:

Thursday 11 February 2010

Sinnerhound - Are You Ready To Be Swashbuckled?

Finally, my swashbuckling strip Sinnerhound is online. Enjoy...

Comic Art Masterclass, new Kev F promo video

I've just knocked together a brand new video promoting my Comic Art Masterclass, I hope you like it:

Do spread the word if you know anyone who might like my class to visit their school, library or art centre. I don't cost much, and by the end of a morning or afternoon the group has created a comic book containing a strip by every one of them which they take home along with a caricature by me. Any age from 7 up, two groups in a day, up to 30 in each group. How can anyone resist?

Monday 8 February 2010

John Prescott in Kev F's Comic Art Masterclass

In my Comic Art Masterclass, which I run in schools, libraries colleges and art centres I do a demonstration of comic strip storytelling which involves a famous person walking down the street. I ask the kids to suggest who the subject should be. In the last six months the most popular suggestion has been Michael Jackson (who was also the favourite choice for the preceding five years), run a close second by Simon Cowell. Other popular suggestions are Cheryl Cole, Gordon Brown, The Queen, Barack Obama, and anyone who's been in the public eye recently. Wildest suggestion, by 11 year olds in Cambridge, is Tim Brooke Taylor.

Today the name chosen by a year 5/6 group in a school in Melksham, Wilts was John Prescott.

And I might just add that, though I do this class in schools all over the country, including indepedent schools and schools in many privileged parts of suburbia and ruralania, never once have I had to draw this strip featuring David Cameron.

Maybe my money shouldn't go on the obvious horse on May 6th?

Saturday 6 February 2010

Star Wars - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

New online from the Socks, their version of Stars Wars, recorded live at The Walnut Tree in Maidstone.

Tour dates
T shirts

Friday 5 February 2010

htmlcomics, the debate continues

Delighted to have opened a can of worms over and it is indeed a contentious subject. It is, of course, a situation that music has been going through since Napster began, over a decade ago, and that TV and movies go through with torrents and YouTube.

They've both tried to fight against the piracy of their properties and have, in most cases, decided that if you can't beat them, join them. iTunes leads the market by having made the cheap but paid-for downloading of music easier and cooler than scouring the pirates, and have seen an upturn in their profits as a result. (Today EMI posted a technical loss because of outstanding debts, but underneath it was a profit on music sales for the first time in 15 months, mostly from the legal download market).

YouTube, of which I am a big fan and consumer, has thrived on providing material that can't be found elsewhere. A lot of it is copyright but if it wasn't on YouTube it would be unobtainable anywhere. Ever tried to buy a DVD of an Eastenders episode from 1993? Or any Top Of The Pops videos? Or early Tiswas? It's not available commercially cos, even on YouTube where you can see it for free, only 500 people have bothered to watch it. But one of them was me, and I'm grateful for that.

htmlcomics, which I learn today is run by a man who appears to be both a nasty bit of work and a douchebag, has allowed me to find and share comics that I either couldn't find or would have had to scan and put online myself if I wanted to share them, and I came across it after, literally, posting the question "where can I find the comics equivalent of YouTube?". But it raises the same concerns as YouTube & Napster before it, namely is allowing free access to comics a rip off that is going to kill comics?

Well, clearly in absolute terms, yes htmlcomics or any other such site is a rip-off. And it is its scale that makes it so much greater a threat than simply sharing comics with a friend. Just like Napster took the old "Home Taping Is Killing Music" principle and expanded it exponentially, so htmlcomics takes the idea of lending your mate a read of your old comics and gone global with it.

Mr Html defends himself by comparing it to a library, and it is a good argument. You get to browse a scan, but supposedly you can't download it (I couldn't, but someone posting here said they could, and I bet you can). And I would like to take a moment to defend that notion. With a library, you get one read of a book, for free, then you rarely if ever look at that again. Wouldn't we want, in an ideal world, every single comic that's ever existed to be available in a library? So, now that it is, why do we object?

The argument against that is, of course, that comics are a business, they are our livelihood, and by allowing people to read our comic for free you destroy our livelihood. This is a very good argument, and I can't refute it. I, for example, read the final issue of Watchmen on htmlcomics on Wednesday night. That's pretty damning considering that's Dave Gibbons' pension I'm eroding. And even though I already own three copies of Watchmen in various formats, that's only cos I'm over 40 years old and have worn copies out. There are punters out there who, given the choice of paying a tenner for the book or reading it for free will deny Dave & the publishers any income. That's a big problem.

Users of YouTube have tackled the problem in a number of ways. Some copyright owners (mostly music publishers) have gone down the banning route. So, for example, videos I bookmarked or favourited a couple of years ago (Abba & Andrew Gold are two examples that spring to mind) are now unavailable when I return to them, and film & TV clips appear with their soundtracks removed.

Others have gone with branding and links. So, for example, Michael Jackson's publishers have applied their ads to videos using their music (one of my own, where we put amusing pictures to an MJ track, is here: complete with official ad & link). This shows their understanding that the video they've branded attracts new potential buyers, and they suck up to the kids by showing their support to the makers of the new vid.

Others, especially broadcasters, have gone online themselves. Channel 4 and the BBC are major presences on YouTube. They put up so much content themselves that there's now point in bootleggers or pirates doing so. In the case of Dr Who the BBC put up a dozen or so Classic stories which aren't available on DVD, and turn a blind eye to anything that doesn't get too high quality.

Which brings us back to comics. Assuming htmlcomics is only the first of many, should we embrace it or try and stamp it out? As you can guess I'm in the embracing camp. I think we should look to how we can make money, as publishers and creators, from the online environment, and welcome the potential new audience.

Because, while some people talk of online free comics as "killing" the comic business, I find I live in a parallel universe. I work with kids teaching them the joy of comic art and, one day out of every three, I walk into a world where comics aren't threatened by online piracy. Because comics don't exist.

If the kids I teach have read a comic, it's the Beano. If they've heard of a Marvel superhero it's because they've seen the DVD. If they know Iron Man started life as a comic strip I give them a medal. A few of them read Manga, so there's some consolation there. For the Japanese who didn't let their business die by ignoring younger readers until it was too late.

But when my pupils, especially in primary school, see comics, they love them. And I come away from every class with a bag full of increasingly ragged and tattered comics, loved to within an inch of their staples. I need a cheap supply of comics that I can put into their hands to be sacrificially devoured in the cause of comics education, and I get it from the 5 for a quid box from FP, backed up with Doctor Who Adventures & Simpsons that I buy myself and donate to the cause. But am I going to let them paw and destroy my Cerebusses, my Watchmans, my Swamp Things, my 2000ADs? Am I buggery? Whereas if I can get a laptop and a whiteboard (and I now find, in most schools, I can) I now have an online database that allows me to pick up on whatever they've just said and direct them to a comic that they'll appreciate.

I'm told the comics that I have been browsing and showing to kids are available "at a price". Even my Star Trek strips from 1996? And my one-off Werewolf strip from Marvel's Midnight Sons Unlimited? And my Beano serials? If so, I've not noticed the royalties rolling in. And as for facsimile pages of colour Jack Kirby FFs and Barry Smith Conans and original Will Eisner Spirit newspaper sections, if they are available I'm betting they'll cost more than their creators ever dreamt anyone would ever spend on them, and those creators (or their living counterparts) won't see a penny of the money anyway.

Still thinking this through, but I feel comics archived online must come about, through some officially sanctioned means, otherwise we can forget ever building a new audience of comic readers.

Kev F

Comics by me, inc Star Trek & Marvel, now online

Thanks to a website I've only just discovered called, I've found not only a plethora of classic comics that I can direct my school pupils towards (every Spirit newspaper strip, every silver age Marvel comic, every issue of 2000AD etc etc, all archived to read onscreen - it's like YouTube but for comics) but also some comics featuring my own work, some of which I've not seen for ten years.

My favourite find was the only story I've written for Marvel, a Werewolf strip that I both scripted and inked. It's here: Moon Jack (starts on page 40).

And here's my first ever ever ever published comic strip, Captain Klep from 2000AD. They didn't put my writers credit on it at the time, but eventually listed me here.

Talking of uncredited work, while sharing a studio with Mark Buckingham I inked some Ghost Rider backgrounds uncredited, and snuck my name into the graffitti, rather as I do in my Beano stories. See if you can find my name on page two of this Ghost Rider 2099

I went on to work with Mark on Doctor Strange. This is a nice issue from our run, and this one I actually got to pencil parts of rather than just inking. And this Star Trek cover I even managed to get my name on the cover. Browse around in these areas and you'll find a lot of my Marvel work over my years there, mostly inking.

And here's the one bit of my Beano work I could find, the start of the serial Fundos, one of my early Beano classics (starts page 17).

Hits from the pits. I heartily recommend this website.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Comics by kids, a selection

Here is just the tiniest selection of the covers of comic produced in recent months by kids in my Comic Art Masterclass, including today's creations. The covers, if you click and examine closely enough, should tell you what school and which age group produced them. Enjoy. (Kev F's Comic Art Masterclass is available to schools, libraries and art centres nationwide, email more details at

Monday 1 February 2010

Falling birth rate, surely a good thing?

An article in today's Guardian by Fred Pearce explains how the birth rate all over the world, particularly in Western Europe but he also includes an example story from Bangladesh, is in decline.

What it doesn't explain is why this is a bad thing. There is talk of a "baby famine" and not being able to maintain the population, and an example of a town in East Germany where empty buildings are being demolished and wolves are returning from the forests.

But surely this is a good thing isn't it? Isn't overpopulation the great evil that's brought us to our knees? Doesn't everyone decry our overcrowded cities with their crime and social decay? Aren't there too many people chasing too few jobs? Don't we have a problem that we're living so long we can't afford our pensions and the more people who come along the worse that problem will get? Isn't climate change a result of too many consumers consuming too much stuff and travelling too far to get it? Isn't too many people what the racists and xenophobes hate (although they probably hate their "coming here and stealing our jobs" regardless of how few we all are in total, and it's probably not in direct ratio to jobs taken in the first place, thinking it through)? And if sea levels rise, won't there be less space to live in the first place? And what was that I read about a water shortage?

Isn't it self-evidently the case that the world has dwindling resources which were finite to begin with, so for the population to expand was always a road to self-destruction? So surely a dwindling population is the road to solving all our problems?

With fewer people chasing fewer resources and sharing a proportionately greater space in which to enjoy them, won't life be theoretically better for all concerned? And given that it seems to be happening benignly, through people choosing not to breed, rather than the previous causes of such decline, ie war, plague, famine and whatever that other horseman's called, surely this is the best of all possible situations?

Can someone explain to me how, in my naivety, I've missed something?

Kev F

BBC Comedy Shuffle HD - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

The first chance to see the Socks very early appearance in BBC Three's Comedy Shuffle, in widescreen and (relatively) high definition. The version on the BBC's Youtube is squarescreen, and our early version is squished and low res. Do please enjoy, bearing in mind we realise how ropey we look. What shape is that right sock? Where are the costumes? And just how much sense do the song and the routine make, trimmed down to 10 seconds and 2 minutes respectively?

Buy the t shirt:
Join the fan club

How to buy the t-shirt - Scottish Falsetto Socks

Wondered where you can get Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre t shirts, badges, mugs and other stuff from? Wonder no more, the answer is here...

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