Friday, 11 April 2014

Bannockburn: On Dangerous Ground!

Wonderful panoramic panel of Conor Boyle's Battle of Bannockburn artwork!
Just a quick mention of an unexpected comic bonus from my Dundee Comic Expo trip when avoiding our usual motorway service station stops, we instead stopped for lunch at the newly refurbished Bannockburn visitor centre near Stirling.

Mighty impressive the centre looked, befitting for the forthcoming 700th anniversary and is one we will defiantly plan to visit properly when we have time, maybe as part of this year's Homecoming festival?. However my wee foray into the gift shop provided unexpected dividends when I discovered that the much anticipated Battle of Bannockburn graphic novel had been released and was on sale!

My excitement stemmed not just from my natural Scottish historical and comic connections but from the fact that the book's art is provided for by the talented and very good friend of Accent UK, Conor Boyle! I first heard about the book over a year ago from Conor and his wife, Lizzie, (of Disconnected Press fame!) and had short updates as we bumped into each other at last year's comic shows. I've not seen them so far this year so this was indeed an unexpected find and one i look forward to reading.

The graphic novel written by historian Fiona Watson comes partly in colour and 3D no less and can be purchased direct from the National Trust for Scotland's website here. Good luck to all involved with its production.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Moments in Dundee!

Dan's surprised that Colin's much shorter in real life!

Aye, Aye fit like? Oops sorry gone 'all Doric' after being home for the Dundee Comics Expo - that's what happens when Gentleman Dave isn't around with his Earl Grey tea!

Anyway I'm glad to report that the Dundee Comic Expo was a good one with decent sales for Accent UK, actually selling more books than the year before so quite happy. This may have been down to my son Adam's keen promotional skills as he joined me on the table for the first time since last year's amazing Glasgow MCM, but probably was more to do with the joint manga/anime event taking place across the quadrant, Dee-Con, which attracted big crowds which were shared across both venues.

A glimpse of the Dee-Con  crowd after the queue had gone down!

Actually next to the beast that was Dee-Con, the Comic Expo was a modest affair with less exhibitors than the year before and no 'big' comic names in the way that Bryan Talbot, David Lloyd, Gary Erskine (and others) had previously provided. There wasn't a huge attendance but rather a steady flow of folk which made for a nice relaxed stream of browsers and buyers. Many were new to Accent UK but there were also returning readers, so the show was great value to us in showcasing our books north of the Border.

The obligatory 'stand by your table' picture!

The University of Dundee's Chris Murray and Phil Vaughan deserve great praise in organising and setting up the Comics Expo. They ensured that the cream of Scotland's independent comic creators were there in abundance including Black Hearted Press, Planet Jimbot, Rough Cut Comics and Team Girl Comics alongside D C Thomson's Commando and Glasgow's Plan B shop and others. It's a shame that their fine programme of talks and panels wasn't better attended but that was probably just a symptom of the casual flow of visitors into the expo making things seem a little sparse at times.

Jim Alexander holding fort

Being based 'doon sooth' I'm still finding my way round the Scottish comics scene so was pleased to have time to chat to many of the other exhibitors especially the likes of Jim Alexander who I've met a few times now and like me had his son there to help him out!

Colin and Treehouse Comic's Andy Herd do a bit of neighbourly sketching

Our table neighbours were new to me, Treehouse Comics, a recently established Dundee based collective who have already released their second anthology title, called of course Treehouse issue 2! They were a fine friendly bunch with 4 or 5 of their creators in attendance playing table tag. It was enjoyable chatting to them and hearing their enthusiasm and I'll be very interested to see what they come up with in the future.

Can you tell what it is yet?

I also caught up with Graham Neil Reid and Jeremy Briggs, Allan Lowson (of Back Street Heroes biker magazine fame), and a few others which is always fun and another valuable part of these shows. Adam's help meant that I wasn't stranded behind the table as I'd largely been the year before but the friendly relaxed atmosphere encouraged lots of conversations but maybe that's just the Scottish friendly nature?

Kirsteen, Colin and Winnie!

To my delight, my Zulu:Water Cart Rescue comics again sold well and I was even asked to do a special Zulu themed sketch of Winnie the Pooh which I enjoyed doing - thanks Kirsteen! Actually my Zulu comic stocks are now very much depleted so I am seriously considering a reprint to bring both issues together in a single volume? Of course I also desperately need to produce something new which an event like this always inspires me to do, so let's see what I come up with. I think maybe that July's Glasgow Comic-Con is a realistic deadline to aim for finishing one of my in progress projects....

Anyway thanks again to the Dundee Comics Expo team, I hope that they were as pleased with the day and that it becomes the regular comic event that Dundee deserves. Thanks also to Adam for his fine company and for taking the day's photos!

Zulu Pooh reporting for duty Sah!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Dundee & Comic Calendar Update

Well we're truly in the comic convention season now with Accent UK getting set for a return to the Dundee Comic Expo this weekend! The date's been known for a while but confirmation's have only recently been made but I can't wait. I really enjoyed last year's show, (see report here!) and this year promises to be a little different being a joint show with the manga/anime focused Dee-Con

Dundee Comics Expo 2013
This will again by a solo comic show from me but I may be accompanied by youngest son, who is currently studying in Scotland but I'm looking forward to catching up with the talented bunch of Scottish creators that I'm getting to see on a more regular basis now.

Speaking of Scotland, we're now also confirmed for a return to Glasgow for July's Comic-Con. We've also applied for our regular table at Leeds Thought Bubble which hopefully, under their new revised registration system will avoid the frustrations and uncertainties of last year. Less positive we won't be returning to this year's The Lakes festival as our application wasn't accepted which we're told is a symptom of the venue being small and heavily over-subscribed, so you can't win them all.

Actually looking at last year's record breaking event calendar, we are only planning to return to 5 of the 11 shows attended in 2014! Some such as Copenhagen Comics, (and presumably Carlisle's Mega-Con?) aren't being held this year, others like MoCCA, (held this forthcoming weekend too!) and the London Super Comic-Con are down to economics while as mentioned we've been declined for The Lakes, so a few changes.  Its perhaps a reflection of the current healthy number of comic festivals, that all 6 of these shows will be replaced with several new (to us) ones planned, so quite exciting really.

Gary Crutchley's cracking artwork
WesterNoir Book 4 - $100 reward? never!

At the moment, we have no overseas shows confirmed, (unless you count Belfast!) but are currently in communications for a show in a country we've never ever visited before which is exciting, with another under serious consideration, so we'll see. Just need to work on a few new releases to follow WesterNoir Book 4's earlier successful launch......

First glimpse of Martin (Man of Glass) Flink's new book 'The Lizard'!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

MCM Moments in Birmingham!

Ah, been  a really hectic week or so since Accent UK's appearance at the Birmingham NEC's MCM & Memorabilia show so here's my review of the show.

From a purely comic sales perspective the show was a little disappointing. After last year's MCM madness in Glasgow and Manchester we had high expectations, but in the end only sold about 1/2 as many books as at those one day shows, so with Birmingham being a full weekend, it was disappointing.

I enlist some help to snare a few comic customers!
Chatting to folk it was hard to pinpoint reasons why, the attendance itself seemed busy enough and comparable with Glasgow and Manchester but the comic village didn't seem to get the same footfall that those shows had. It reminded us of the early MCM London shows we tried when the thousands of teenage cosplayers didn't seem too interested in the comics side of things - something I understand that London has 'grown' out of as its attendance has since soared and comic village regulars enjoy brisk trade, (something we will test for ourselves when we return to London in May!).

You could buy anything at MCM but these weren't the droids I was looking for....
I understand that this Birmingham show is a different beast to others in the MCM stable in that it has Incorporated the long established Memorabilia shows which ran for many years. There was evidence of this both in the media star signings and the dealer hall with various toy, book, magazine and vinyl record dealers amongst the regular MCM roster of manga, prints, t-shirts, accessory stalls etc. I think Dave and I rather enjoyed this eclectic mix of dealers with some unusual finds amongst the many stalls - old Lion annuals for Dave and a couple of Zulu movie lobby cards for me!

Alexander and me - despite a slow day, Zulu sold first & sold out!
It may be though that the comic village hasn't yet matured in its own identity within this varied show and struggled to make itself heard. There were some 'hotspots' though with a couple of comic exhibitors doing well but for the majority it was pretty modest stuff.

Dave, Stu and Col share the love!
As always though it was still a very enjoyable time catching up with old and new friends including Steve Tanner of Time Bomb comics, Paul Birch of the Birmingham Mail's Speech Balloons column, Lou aka Naniiebim, Rudra and Lyndon White, (whose promising Cosmic Fish comic is imminent!), Jeremy of the popular  Zombie Bear Comics and of course the irrepressible force that is Stuart Gould of UK Comics Creative

Here's me & Jemma about to bust open the 'Colin the Caterpillar' birthday cakes Karen had bought!
As we had the capable Jemma and Scott with us, Dave and I took the opportunity for a few wanders and a coffee to reflect on where we are with Accent UK - something we of course regularly do - but we've had a growing feeling that we're a little 'muddled' in our own identity, possibly mirroring the MCM/Memorabilia's own identity crisis! We also had some valuable constructive feedback from folk we trust so are mulling these over at the moment and hopefully will implement a few positive changes going forward. Nothing overly drastic, maybe just a timely 'resetting' of where we are and what we want to achieve, mmm well that does sound rather drastic and serious doesn't it - anyway I've asked Dave to keep all this under his hat for now............

Dave struggling to contain his ideas hat !

Saturday, 15 March 2014

They Call Him Stagger Lee

Catching up with my reading and a few days ago finished the Stagger Lee graphic novel from writer Derek McCulloch and artist Shepherd Hendrix. First published by Image Comics in 2006, (see its original official website here), its a strange enjoyable but ultimately flawed read.

Telling an American tale of Christmas Eve, 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri, Lee "Stack Lee" Shelton shot and killed Billy Lyons during an argument at a bar. Said argument may or may not have been triggered by a stetson hat. But the story told here is not so much about the shooting but the legend it gave rise to. If like me, you think you recognise the 'Stagger Lee' name but not the story its probably because of the song versions it inspired. Most noticeable for me the Nick Cave version which has a great beat but probably the most explicit lyrics around! (For a comprehensive insight into the 'Stagger Lee' story and the 'Murder Ballads' it inspired, checkout Paul Slade's articles and website here).

A great example of artist Shepherd Hendrix's work

The graphic novel expertly traces the orgins of the various versions of the songs which include not just Nick Cave but Bob Dylan, The Clash, The Grateful Dead, Wilson Pickett and dozens more, handily listed in the book's appendix.

It cleverly highlights the different version of events relayed in the songs which artist Hendrix has a lot of fun with - at one point drawing the main characters in each others distinctive suits to illustrate doubts who the real protagonist was! 

The story of the songs and the basic known facts of the case, (based on a true story) would probably make for a satisfying read in itself. However the book has a further layer to it with regular vignettes from a supporting cast, some real, mostly fictional. These are actually well told on the whole, albeit sometimes confusing to recall who's who and how they fit into the scheme of things.

In my view though these episodic vignettes detract from the Stagger Lee story too much and jar with the courtroom scenes and song interludes. The fictional element would perhaps have made for a valid separate book in itself rather than 'shoehorn' it in here. Ultimately making for Stagger Lee to be a laboured read in parts but still worth picking up if you come across it. 

I contrast this with the Johnny Cash, I See A Darkness, graphic novel by Reinhard Kleist (Self-Made Here 2009), which I also recently read for the first time. It also juggles song lyrics with factual biography but cleverly keeps things moving without the need to add extra fictional elements and makes for a more entertaining read in my humble opinion.

Still, Stagger Lee was, (as the songs convey), a bad, bad man and his story endures to this day. A fact brought home when I noted the date I finished reading this graphic novel, the 11th March, which just happens to be the anniversary of  Lee 'Stack Lee' Shelton's death in the Missouri State Penitentiary Hospital in 1912!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Ian Knight's facebook post on the 135th anniversary of the little known Anglo-Zulu War Battle of Ntombe Drift reminded me that I'd  a couple of videos of our trip there in 2010.

These feature the Holts 2010 tour group at the scene of the battle with a plucky Jonathan G doing his 'Mr D'arcy' routine.....

Firstly the gloomy river itself....


 Then Jonathan's careful crossing.......
And his safe return........