Sunday 29 August 2021

"spectacular looking, funny and filled with action" - rave review for Space Elain & Wallop

I'm very pleased with this review on Down The Tubes by Peter Duncan, saying the kindest things about Space Elain in particular, and the rest of the book in general. Well done everyone involved. I honestly can't think when I've had any of my comics work reviewed (I'm still waiting for a review of the Shakespeare trilogy), so I'm revelling in this for the time being.

In Review: The Wallop! Annual, from Volcano Comics
BY PETER DUNCAN on AUGUST 29, 2021 • ( 0 )

Review by Peter Duncan

Having just read and reviewed the new Beano and The Dandy annuals, it was interesting to see independent publisher Volcano Comics entry into the humour comic field. Their Wallop! Annual is a colour, A4 hardcover in very much the same format as the classic DC Thomson books. It brings together thirteen new strips under the general theme of humorous adventure stories.

The cover is a good pastiche of old Annuals showing many of the characters that appear within, with ‘Captain Wallop’ taking centre stage. Inside, we have 13 stories, all but three written by Brian Clarke, one of the driving forces behind the production.

In truth, this presents one of the few issues I have with the book. There is a recognisable tone to many of Brian’s stories, and with five of them featuring the very distinctive art of John Jackson, and there is a danger of things being becoming a little bit predictable and samey. John’s jokes are often of the type that elicit groans along with the laughs, but that’s no bad thing for a comic of this type. Of the team’s strips, “Gary’s Gorillas”, a story involving a crack World War Two unit consisting, unsurprisingly, of gorillas, and “Detective Bumble”, which brings all of the comics characters together, are the most successful, with, I felt, “Captain Keelhaul” and “Cat Troop”, needing a bit more thought before the next outing.

A snapshot of all the strips on offer in the first Wallop! Annual from Volcano Comics. Image: Volcano Comics Strangely enough, John Jackson reserves his best art for a strip he wrote himself, “Captain Chad Panther”, a rather inept jungle explorer, some extra variation in the backgrounds and fewer blocks of solid colour really brought out his figure work. Something of a lesson for the future, I feel.

Brian does seem to change his writing style when working with other artists. His western, “Sure Shot Suzy”, with art by Keith Robson, retains the terrible puns and jokes but adds a little bit more action and is beautifully drawn. Likewise, Mike Collins brings a different dimension to “Olden Daze”, a story of dragons and knights and a visit to Blackpool.

Alessandro Giampaeletti delivers a thoroughly professional and modern look to “The Twin Jets”. while Jim Tyson does a fantastic job on “Time Travelling Trevor”, which, out of all the strips Brian has written probably has the most legs for a return. It’s the story of a time traveller with a talking Dodo as a companion and features a great villain, who may well be based on a cross between Superman nemesis, Mr Mxyzptik and The Master from Doctor Who. Probably, John’s best work.

Not far behind, and drawn by the excellent Dave Windett, was the “Wallop Wonder Tale”, “Wrong Address”. Dave is great at drawing robots and kids, and his art adds a real charm to this story of intergalactic postal foul-ups.

It’s an illustration of just how difficult writing humour strips is, that it’s the old hands who deliver the real highlights. Kev Sutherland, who played a major role in persuading Brian and John to produce this lovely hardcover, has given them the real gem of the collection, “Space Elain” – basically, a “how to” guide to funny adventure comics for kids. It’s spectacular looking, funny and filled with action – and could usefully find a place in any comic for kids.

One final strip needs a mention, by brothers Chris and Joe Matthews, who I’ve worked with myself. They’ve teamed up to give us “Hardman Jackson”, a parody of hardboiled detectives with added anthropomorphics that is right up my street and another story that provides a change in tone and works really well as a result.

“Hardman Jackson” by Chris and Joe Matthews Overall, the Wallop! Annual is a great read. It isn’t perfect, but these things rarely are first time out. Brian and John are learning their way with the format, but have put together a hugely entertaining Annual in the tradition of British humour comics, with great production values and a lot of laughs.

Some lessons have probably been learnt for next time. The involvement of more writers to give greater variation, perhaps a third-part editor to polish the dialogue, just a bit, and some thought on how extra detail on the backgrounds of John’s artwork would make it pop that little bit more. But this is a labour of love, and it shows.

Experience has told me that traditional-style humour comics are difficult to sell on the internet. They tend do much better in conventions where kids, and adults, get to pore through them. With no cons or shows, it’s been tough for Wallop and its counterpart from the Sentinel crowd, Crackpot, to get the sales their hard work deserves.

So, if old-fashioned humour comics are your thing, or you think you might like to support a group of creators trying to keep that tradition alive, then this is the book for you.

Peter Duncan

Thursday 26 August 2021

Socks Live Gigs - Autumn 2021

The Socks are returning to the live stage. Again. We tried this at the same time last year, with what turned out to be a very optimistically entitled Fingers Crossed tour, every one of which got cancelled by the second lockdown. This summer we managed actually to do some of them at last. Now we have a few more lined up, ahead of a proper return to form in 2022. Enjoy our Autumn Schedule:

Sept 3 - Whitchurch Comedy Fest (supporting Paul Sinha)

Sept 4 - Stourbridge Comedy Fest  - two gigs, both with Paul Sinha and Stephen Bailey at 5pm and 8.30pm 

Sept 17 - Bridport Arts (Socks Do Shakespeare)

Oct 5 - Old Joint Stock, Birmingham (Fingers Crossed + Superheroes Double Bill)

Oct 8 - Ropery Hall Barton (Fingers Crossed 90 min show)

Oct 11 - Frog & Bucket Beat The Frog World Series

Oct 24 - Swansea Fringe 

More dates to be added, watch this space.

4 star review for Socks - Sinners Review

My thanks to Ian Cole on Youtube (and partner whose name I should know but don't) for this smashing 4 star review of the Socks' Eurovision Sock Contest

"Plenty of belly laughs" - Douze points review from Lothian Life

Lovely review from Lothian Life for the Eurovision Socks Contest, which I'm officially ranking as Douze Points, because she tweeted that it was.

Fringe veterans The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre take on the world’s most beloved song contest, with a boatload of puns and the inevitable technical hitches that come with a Zoom show. As in the regular Eurovision, viewers must listen to the acts then vote for their favourite with an onscreen poll.

While the puppets are cute, this is definitely not a kids’ show; many of the jokes are close to the bone! Among the contestants, we had France’s ‘Johnni Forriner’ dispelling national stereotypes; Scandinavia’s ‘Sexiblond’ rivalling Abba on the dancing stakes and threatening a Jo Nesbo-style noir death if we didn’t vote for her; Germany’s Deconstructivist Kollektiv with a techno ode to IKEA shelf assembly; and a cardboard Graham Norton for Ireland, singing a Pet Shop Boys pastiche about the sub-par commentator booths.

There’s a spot of improv with Zoom suggestions, with mixed success, but as a hardcore fan of the contest I thought the Eurovision songs were spot-on parodies. In the end, the UK claimed a rare victory with a distinctly boy band take on Brexit. There were plenty of belly laughs in our living room at the Socks’ antics!

Zoom chaos aside, this was a highly enjoyable evening with the Socks. Germany was definitely robbed of the trophy, though…

Fringe On Demand

Monday 23 August 2021

Wombles, Sheep, Pigs - more comics by kids

This August I have been able to take part in the Waltham Forest Summer Scheme classes, which I usually miss because of being in Edinburgh. This has seen me spend six days in London, which I've been able to take advantage of by inviting Hev along and making a mini holiday of it. Of course it hasn't been without its complications, as the story of the smelly flat in Ilford will tell you (see previous blog). The above covers are from the final school, Chapel End, and the very first Parkside (also shown in a previous blog, in case you thought the kids were being really unimaginative).

These two comics are from the Waltham Forest schools Dawlish and Roger Ascham. Where we get our second complication of these sessions. At Dawlish, one of the teachers heard me talking to the pupils as they came in, and making a joke about how they looked like they were doing nazi salutes. She tok this so wrongly and out of context that she reported me to the organiser of the sessions, who wasn't on site herslef, who in turn took it up with Mandy, who has booked me to do the classes. For fear that I was in some way inappropriate, and in order that I could be allowed to continue doing the classes, this organiser insisted that Mandy sent another Grape employee to observe my classes. Crazy, and a cost to Mandy, which has infuriated us both. I feel wronged and insulted, but what can you do? Apparently it was saying the word 'nazi' in a school that freaked this idiot jobsworth (whose identity I never discovered) out. Christ knows how they teach World War 2 in that school. Apart from this inconvenience, the classes continued without event.

Plough Arts in Great Torrington Devon had me back, in person, after I'd done a Zoom class earlier in the year. Which brought up a bit more of the travel headache that I moaned about in the last blog. Getting back from a morning class in North Devon, on a Saturday afternoon, at the height of the summer holidays, took forever! Hey nonny nonny, it's good to do classes in person and I'm glad they had me in.

The red-tinged version of the cover is what it looked like when I snapped it on my phone. We were working under stage lights in the theatre, which just goes to show you how bright LED lights actually aren't.

Class Bento is a website that's brought me a few Zoom gigs over the last year. This week they paid me the ultimate compliment when John, the founder of the site, booked me for his brother Robin's birthday party. Half the attendees were in England, the other half in Australia, so we had the class at 7.30 in the morning. It went so well, they've booked me for another class, same time next week.

Colindale Library in North London have had me in before, three years ago, and it was great to be back. I was able to amalgamate this into another overnight stay with Hev, joining it into my Waltham Forest class the following day. Not interesting, but I thought you'd like a bit of colour.

Whitehall and George Tomlinson were two more primary schools in the Waltham Forest set, both of which produced great comics with the kids. The irony is that the kids will never see these front covers. Because we had no access to photocopiers in any of these schools, all they took away were their caricatures and the art they'd produced. Often I can send the coloured front covers to the pupils, if it's a ticketed event so we have the parents emails (eg the Plough Arts and Colindale Library kids will have received their colour covers). But the Waltham Forest kids come from all over and leave no contacts, so their covers have gone into the ether. But hey, you and I have seen them, so there's that.

The celebrities these 8 groups chose to star in my demonstration strip were Michael Jackson (twice), Robert Downey Junior, Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, Bruce Lee, Joe Biden, and The Queen.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who, and graphic novels adapted from Shakespeare, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and TwitterHe is the host of the podcast Comic Cuts The Panel Show

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Travel fun: The costs of travelling

Don’t get me wrong, I loved flying to Enniskillen to do two days of Comic Art Masterclasses this month. The kids were great, the venue fantastic, and my various places of accommodation were perfect. 

But there’s one tiny aspect that made me nostalgic for the days of doing all my classes on Zoom - the costs.

Remember the good old days of the pandemic when no-one could travel anywhere, and if they did they certainly couldn’t work in a room with twenty or more kids for a couple of hours? Well, by July 2021, those days were gone and I have been back working in full classrooms, enjoying the laughter of kids again, for most days of the last two months. It’s been great. It’s seen me do more driving in the last month than I did in the whole of 2020, and then some, but it’s been worth it. These classes are a big part of my job. But sometimes I can let the costs run away with me, as I did with the planning of this week’s two day trip to Enniskillen.

To start with, the two day trip had originally been planned as a more ambitious four day trip, so I’d have been working with eight groups of kids, brought together from participating schools all over the area. This, effectively a week’s work, was naturally something I leaped at, and was all set to book the flights - my first flights since before the pandemic.

As we got nearer to the summer, as the costs of those flights were creeping up, it became clear that we were only going to be able to do two days of classes. Still well worth it I thought, so I booked my flights.

One thing I’d forgotten about flights is that, even at the most normal of times, they rarely go when you want them to. And in these post-pandemic adjustment times there are slightly fewer of them too. So the only way I could fly to Belfast International Airport in time to get to Monday morning classes in Enniskillen, and to get back again after the Tuesday afternoon class, was to fly on Sunday afternoon, and return Wednesday morning. Effectively I’m now taking four days to do two days work, and that’ll necessitate three overnight stays.

At least, I reckoned, I wouldn’t need to hire a car. I’ve got all of Sunday evening to get to Enniskillen (arriving in Belfast airport at 5.40), and all my classes are in the one art centre. 

Then I look again at the bus timetables, that I may have given a cursory glance to before. There is no way I’ll get from Belfast airport to Enniskillen by public transport in a hurry (I won’t go into the details, but google it yourself and weep).

So I hired a car. A rather big expense when you leave it to the week before you travel (though, to be honest, I’d decided against booking a car when I booked my flights because, even by then, hire costs seemed to have doubled since pre-pandemic days).

And that was it, I thought. I have a return flight, I have a hire car, and I have three overnight stays - which were, by the way, the most reasonably priced and top quality bookings (whose quality I was about to appreciate all the more when I made the journey to schools in Waltham Forest a couple of days later).

Except, of course, I’d forgotten to book my airport parking. A rookie mistake, what can I say, it’s been literally 18 months since my last flights, I’d forgotten everything! So, another little cost added to the bill. Well, I say a ‘little’ cost…

Return flights £148

Enniskillen guest house 2 nights  £128

Belfast airport hotel   £54

Car hire     £98

Airport parking     £75

Total travel costs     £503

I’m not telling you how much I got paid for my two days of classes, and I’m happy to reassure you that I have come away making a profit. But, let us just say, nothing near the profit I would have made had I just walked through to the back room on Monday morning, shouted at a screen for a few hours, and walked back out again, then repeated the next day!

I greatly enjoyed my trip to Enniskillen and look forward to doing more such journeys as my classes continue. I shall be planning my flights very carefully in future, and trying my best to add as much to the bill as I possibly can!

Travel fun: The Deluxe London Loft Apartment that moved

 Dear, I couldn't leave this review (for reasons below), but I want to warn others about "London Deluxe Loft Apartment"

We got relocated  - new room was quite grotty

We booked the Deluxe London Loft Apartment shown in this listing, and we paid this price (£75) but then I got a phone call the day before the booking from Shabz, the owner and, for reasons I can’t remember, we were relocated to a different flat, in Ilford.

The new flat was by a roundabout of the busy main road and had very loud traffic noise all night. It was also quite smelly, with what seemed like old cigarette smoke covered in cleaning products. (We didn’t discover till the second night of our stay that the window opened, which helped.)

The flat was converted from one bedroom, with a tiny kitchen and toilet with shower both squeezed into the end. So squeezed in, in fact, that the dividing wall went down the window, so the window was partly in the kitchen and partly in the toilet. The toilet had no curtains so, when one sat down, one was visible from the street. (We improvised a blind made of kitchen roll and blu tac).

The sofa was broken so it sagged into the middle. The glass topped table was also broken, with its leg held together with brown packing tape.

The pillows were lumpy, but possibly worst of all, the beds had plastic under-sheeting, as one would put on the bed of an incontinent child. 

The rigmarole of getting the key was over-complicated and necessitated me ringing Shabz when we arrived outside the house (at 8.30pm) and being given the code for the box with the keys in. He wouldn’t give it to me any earlier for security reasons.

So, in short, if Shabz rings you up and offers to relocate you to a different apartment, I would recommend not moving to the flat at 29 Royston Parade, Ilford. 

Quite what the Deluxe Loft Apartment we originally booked was like, I can’t say. It may be great.

PS: Shabz also asked for a £100 deposit. Before he would give this back, he asked me to click the setting on the website stating that I hadn’t stayed at that apartment. I subsequently discovered this prevented me from leaving a review.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

LeBum Germs - comics by kids from Enniskillen to Chingford

My first flights since Feb 2020 came this week, and saw me soaring back to the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen. Remind me to write a blog about how the costs of travel made this my least profitable classes since the pandemic began, but it's good to get out of the house and the kids were marvellous.

I did four classes across two days in the Ardhowen, the plan having been to do four days of classes (hence me agreeing to travel which, divided across fewer days of classes, ate into the profits more than they would have, not that I'm obsessed by that fact) and the kids came up with some of my favourite titles for ages. We also had a good long uninterrupted time for every class, which meant I could put detail into the covers, and even do them some special drawings on the flipchart. (Not my flipchart, I could spare the paper as well as the time). 

Here's the Queen having fun. Other flipchart nonsense is in the montage below.

I have a series of visits to classes in East London coming up, courtest of Mandy and Waltham Forest's Summer Schools, which I usually miss because of Edinburgh. Last year she was able to organise some of my earliest online classes. This year the visits began with Parkside primary in Chingford, who came up with the above idea. 

Zoom classes still contine, as we can see from this one organised by Colchester and Ipswich Museums. It's harder to get the punters in, now the summer's here and live activities are back, but I can tell you I was delighted to only have to travel to the back room for this one-off session, rather than drive 10 hours to Ipswich and back!

The celebrities these 7* groups chose to tread on a worm in my demonstration strip (*Space Jam was one cover contributed to by two groups) were Sky Brown (Olympic skateboarder), Stan Lee, Billie Eilish, Boris Johnson, Tom Holland, Justin Bieber, and Michael Jordan.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who, and graphic novels adapted from Shakespeare, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and TwitterHe is the host of the podcast Comic Cuts The Panel Show
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