14 October, 2012

The TARDIS Tales Treasury

The newly-published TARDIS Tales Treasury is a collection of all of the published comic strips by the funny and talented Graham Muir. Graham is a New Zealander who is well-known in local Doctor Who fandom for writing and drawing a long-running humorous comic strip called TARDIS Tales, which often mercilessly poked fun at various aspects of the television series.

The strip's main character was not the Doctor himself (who nevertheless usually appeared in one or more of his incarnations), but rather Saucer, a smart-talking, laid-back, super-intelligent chicken not adverse to ridding himself of bothersome characters in the final frame with a knock-out punch or a blast from a sub-machine gun.

TARDIS Tales made its debut appearance in 1988 in the pages of Time Space Visualiser (TSV), the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club zine. The strip was a well-established regular feature by the time I took on the editorship of the publication for the second time in 1991.

When I became editor I gave the zine a major revamp, changing almost every aspect, but the only feature that I was happy to retain unaltered was TARDIS Tales. I admired Graham's talent and passion for the strip and recognised that his creation had a strong following with readers. I don't recall my exact words all these years later, but I'm fairly sure that my directive to him would have been along the lines of, "keep doing what you're doing, it's great."

Excerpt from TARDIS Tales: The U.N.I.T. Reunion (1992)
TARDIS Tales finally bowed out of TSV six years later. Such was the clamour from fans for new material that Graham was subsequently  persuaded to create a handful of spin-off strips for Telos and Reverse the Polarity!, a couple of Christchurch-based fanzines.

The TARDIS Tales Treasury collects all of Graham's fanzine strips, along with his artwork and some fascinating previously unseen examples of his early unpublished work, under one cover. For the first time Graham's strips are presented at 1:1 scale. I produced TSV's physical masters (in the days before digital publishing) at A4 size, with the printed copies reduced to A5-sized pages. Graham drew his strips at A4 but until now many readers have never seen TARDIS Tales at full size.

But wait, there's more! In addition to the strips and artwork there is also a substantial 'behind-the-scenes' history and examination of the strip, occupying most of the first 75 pages of this 200-page book. Written by Alex Ballingall, the book's editor, compiler and designer, the text section comprehensively chronicles Graham's cartoon work from its beginnings when Muir was doodling during his school days up to the latest (and last?) TARDIS Tales strip completed especially for the Treasury in 2010.

The paperback book is handsomely presented with a full-colour cover by Graham that is a fitting homage to The Dr Who Annual from 1968.

The book has been a long time in development. It was over a decade ago that I first organised a set of copies of the strips from the TSV print masters for this project. I later contributed comments for inclusion in the 'behind-the-scenes' sections and more recently an afterword. Thanks to Alex's perseverance the book has at last been published. 

I am most impressed with the look of the finished, printed book, and it clearly shows that Alex has devoted a lot of time and attention to getting it just right. 

Leafing through this volume I am now inspired to showcase more of TSV's 'back-catalogue' in this format.

Well done, Alex and Graham!

The TARDIS Tales Treasury is available to order here:

26 September, 2012

Artwork Auction

The limited edition hardcover of my book features a painting by 1960s TV Comic artist Bill Mevin that was especially commissioned for the book.

Now Mevin is selling the original artwork. The piece described as 'A4 in size and painted on thick, textured art paper', is listed on Ebay and is being sold on Mevin's behalf by Stephen James Walker of Telos Publishing. Here's the auction, which ends on Friday 5 October.

24 September, 2012

The Book has Arrived!

I collect Doctor Who books. I have hundreds of the things carefully arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves around the walls of my study. I love receiving each new title, but the arrival of today's latest addition to the collection was far more exciting that usual. 

A box of author copies of my book, The Comic Strip Companion, including paperbacks and one hardback copy, arrived by courier this morning.

I was out at the time, enduring a uncomfortable hour-long session at the dentist. I arrived home with a numb mouth to be greeted by my wife Rochelle with the news that FedEx had called by to drop off a box for me.

Excitement overcame the drowsy after-effects of of dental surgery as I cut open the package and handled for the very first time actual, physical copies of my book. It really existed!

I'm in New Zealand; Telos, my publisher, is in the UK. I've spent the last week hearing from enthusiastic  overseas readers who've received the book, whilst all the time I've been eagerly awaiting my own as the books made their way around the globe. 

knew that the book had been printed and distributed. It's just that until I held the finished published copies in my hands it didn't feel completely real to me. Just feeling the solid weight of the limited edition hardback with its glossy cover, or leafing through the only slightly more manageable paperback, is an indescribably satisfying feeling. 

Entirely coincidentally, the book has arrived in my hands almost exactly five years after signing the contract (on 26 September 2007), and one year after delivering the manuscript (on 21 September 2011).

(Author's expression in these photos due to numb upper lip...)

14 September, 2012

Out of the Box

The paperback edition of my book has just arrived at Telos Publishing.  

It is, as you can see, a rather chunky volume. I knew of course that it was 608 pages long, but it wasn't until I saw this photo that I fully appreciated what this meant in terms of the physical size of the book.

The hardback edition is apparently due tomorrow, and orders will be dispatched next week.

Thank you to Sam Stone for the photograph. That's made my day!  

19 August, 2012

The Comic Strip Companion Sampler

I'm delighted to offer a set of sample pages from The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964–1979.

As someone who often buys books online, I'm a great believer in the value of offering a preview of the contents and I've frequently decided to purchase on the strength of reading sample pages.

The PDF sampler is downloadable from the link below. It includes the contents pages, the first story entry, and one of the 'interlude' articles.

This should provide a taste of what the book's about and how I've approached writing about the comic strips.

The Comic Strip Companion Sampler

Thank you to David J Howe at Telos Publishing Ltd for arranging the sample.

18 August, 2012

Limited Hardback Edition

The plan was that The Comic Strip Companion would only be available in paperback but, when it was first made available to pre-order in June this year, a number of fans expressed their preference for a hardback version. Telos do not always produce hardback editions for their titles but, in response to popular demand, one is now being produced for my book.

The limited hardback edition (I'm told that over half the allocation has already been pre-ordered), features a different cover design to the paperback version. David J Howe at Telos wanted something special for the cover so sought out an artist who worked on the original comic strips to create a new painting especially for the book. I'm simply delighted that Bill Mevin has painted the cover.

Bill Mevin's association with Doctor Who comics dates back to the mid-1960s. He was the second artist to work on the the Doctor Who strip in TV Comic, over a six-month period from October 1965 through to April 1966, and was the first to illustrate each of the strip's weekly instalments as full colour paintings (his predecessor, Neville Main, had drawn the weekly strip in black and white). Mevin's cover painting features William Hartnell's Doctor, which is appropriate as his Doctor was current at the time that Mevin was working on the strip.

Both editions of the book are 608 pages (yes, considerably longer than as originally advertised!) with an eight-pages in colour displaying a number of the comic covers from the 1960s and 1970s.

The book was sent off to the printers yesterday. Now there's a wait of around six weeks until it is due to be released at the end of September. Oh the anticipation!

06 July, 2012

One Last Read-Through

I've been sent a PDF of The Comic Strip Companion. The design and layout has been done, and I'm really pleased with how it looks.

It's now up to me to read the book from beginning to end. This is my last opportunity to find any minor errors and get them corrected before the book goes to print.

I find it a great deal easier to spot mistakes on the printed page than I do on a screen, so I've printed off a copy of the PDF. All 684 pages of it. The stack of paper you see here is one copy of the book. Although I've printed copies of individual sections while I was writing the book, this is the first time I've had a physical copy of the entire thing. It somehow feels more 'real' to me now than ever before.

Time to get to work on those corrections...

25 June, 2012

Countdown to The Comic Strip Companion

The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964 - 1979 will be published later this year.

The expected release date of 30 September 2012 has recently been posted on the Telos Publishing website, along with the reveal of the cover and blurb. Judging by the comments posted online in reaction to this announcement, it appears that there are many readers eagerly awaiting the book’s publication. I count myself among them. I may have spent countless hundreds of hours researching, writing and revising over the past five years, and I’m very keen to see the finished product.

The Comic Strip Companion is a guide to an aspect of Doctor Who that may be unfamiliar to many fans, as all the comic strips published in the years covered by this book are long out of print. The book does not reprint the actual strips. For rights reasons this is not possible. The book does feature an 8-page colour section featuring a selection of relevant comic strip covers.

Each individual episode has a plot synopsis, so anyone who has not read some, or perhaps even all, of the comic strips under discussion should still find the book entirely accessible. It also provides a lot of information that even readers who do have the strips to hand will not have known about before, sourced from original correspondence, synopses, scripts and interviews with some of the writers and artists.  

The fifteen year period covered in this book details every Doctor Who story, produced by Polystyle Publications (formerly TV Publications), that appeared in TV Comic, Countdown and TV Action. 

The Doctor’s comic strip adventures began in November 1964; one year after the television series was first broadcast. For the following fifteen years, Doctor Who appeared in comic strip form almost every week, amassing many more individual stories than the television series. In May 1979 the strip was discontinued. After a five-month hiatus the strip was re-launched as a regular feature in Doctor Who Weekly (later Doctor Who Magazine, where the strip continues to this day). This break and subsequent change of publisher marks the conclusion of the book’s comic strip coverage. I am writing a follow-up volume that will pick up the story of the comic strips from October 1979 onwards.

Most of the book is taken up with a year-by-year, story-by-story coverage of the weekly strip, but there are sections included for the comic strip adventures in The Dr Who Annual, the Dalek books and annuals, and The Daleks, a weekly strip that appeared in TV Century 21The book also has appendices that detail all of the reprints, adaptations, humorous strips and even a handful of associated text stories.

The book is an A5-format paperback, around 500 pages in length, and is now available to order from Telos.

18 June, 2012

Quarter Century

New Zealand Doctor Who fandom is a quarter of a century old this month. That is older than many of New Zealand's Doctor Who fans. It is also roughly half the lifespan of the entire television series from 1963 until today.

Twenty-five years ago saw the publication of the first issue of Time Space Visualiser (TSV). The fanzine was later adopted by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club.

The birth of organised, sustained and widespread Doctor Who fandom in this country occurred in June 1987 but, of course, there were New Zealand Doctor Who fans long before this time. By 1987 the show had been screening here for nearly twenty-three years (the first episode was broadcast in September 1964, making New Zealand the first country other than Britain to show the series). These fans perhaps even produced their own small-scale and short-lived fanzines. I know I did; in the mid-1980s I put out a slim monthly publication for a small group of school friends.

I was a first-year student at the University of Auckland when I met another fan, Paul Sinkovich. Paul loaned me his extensive collection of fanzines and videotape recordings of stories I'd never seen before. These opened my eyes to wonders beyond what I'd happened to catch on television (New Zealand was years behind the latest episodes at the time), or read either in books or the official Doctor Who Magazine. Paul had also corresponded with a number of fan friends around New Zealand

I saw an opportunity to pool our resources to create a publication that could cater for and unite the local Doctor Who fan community. The result was Time Space Visualiser, an A5-sized photocopied fanzine filled with articles, reviews and short stories. The first issue, cover-dated July 1987, was finished and published in mid-June just in time for my 19th birthday. I put out two further issues later that year. TSV soon gained a respectable number of readers and contributors. I began making many new acquaintances through the fanzine, including Jon Preddle, who remains to this day one of my best friends.

In 1988 I changed TSV to a simpler, newsletter-format publication. The considerably shorter issues were reflective of my declining interest in certain aspects of fanzine production. I handled all the typing, layout, copying, publicity, subscriptions and distribution. It proved to be a heavy workload for one person to manage. 

TSV would almost certainly have ended after its first half dozen issues if it was not for a trio of Christchurch-based fans - Andrew Poulsen, Scott Walker and Kay Lilley - who, in early 1988, established the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club (NZDWFC). The club was getting started just as I was thinking about ending TSV. They had a club, I had an established fanzine - it was an ideal match. The club adopted TSV with my blessing, picking up the numbered issues where I left off.

Although I was happy to relinquish the editorship, my interest in writing about Doctor Who was undiminished. I was a frequent contributor to TSV over the next few years and produced several side-projects which were published as special issues by the NZDWFC. I also helped organise a local Auckland chapter of the club, which held a series of extremely well-attended video days.

Things came  unstuck in late 1990 when the Christchurch-based club went seriously into deficit over the running of WhoCon, a Doctor Who fan convention. The event was undoubtedly a success from the point of view of attendees but in the aftermath of this event, none of the organisers had much enthusiasm for remaining involved in running the club or TSV. 

So I volunteered to step in. It was clear to me that, even if the club’s leadership was in disarray, the organisation still had a large following among New Zealand fans and it would have been a terrible shame to let that die off. Having helped run the local chapter for a couple of years, I had built up a circle of Auckland-based fan friends who were willing to assist with getting the club back on its feet and it was possible to delegate some of the tasks involved in producing TSV.

I ran the club and edited TSV for the next fifteen years, seeing them both through a period often referred to as the ‘Wilderness Years’, that lengthy gap when Doctor Who was not being produced as a regular, ongoing television series.

In 2005, just as the new television series revival was gathering pace, I stepped down as editor and passed responsibility for the fanzine on to Adam McGechan, who had tailed me on TSV for a few issues and proved himself a capable successor. Adam produced six issues between 2005 and 2009, giving TSV a fresh new look and bringing in a number of new contributors. Meanwhile, I continued to oversee the club, and managed the printing and distribution of TSV.

TSV #76, which was to be Adam’s last issue, came out in March 2009. Adam later decided to step down as editor. Writing as Adam Christopher, he has subsequently pursued a career as a novelist with his first novel Empire State published at the beginning of this year. 

Meanwhile, I found paid work as a writer. I was commissioned to write the production information subtitles for a number of stories in the BBC Doctor Who DVD range. I was also contracted by UK publisher Telos to write a guide to the Doctor Who comic strips. Both opportunities arose because the respective editors were familiar with the quality of my work from reading TSV.

Due to these professional writing commitments, coupled with the demands of managing a small business (Retrospace Sci-Fi Collectibles) with my wife Rochelle, TSV has been on an extended hiatus for three years now. I continue to keep a watchful eye on the club, which has a constant presence through its website and online discussion forum.

I haven't given up on TSV. I very much want to see it continue. I have ideas for what I would like to do with the next issue. I would have liked to have had this out in time for TSV’s twenty-fifth anniversary, but this simply hasn’t been possible to organise. 

So I’ll have to settle for marking this milestone by announcing that plans are underway for TSV’s return. Stay tuned!

08 February, 2012

A Comic Conundrum

I'm taking advantage of a short delay before the publishers are ready to begin work on preparing my book, The Comic Strip Companion 1964-1979, for publication to test it out on a small group of readers.

These enthusiastic volunteers have delivered invaluable feedback on the manuscript, enabling me to identify areas that need slight tweaks, additions or corrections. My readers, working in isolation to each other, have delivered quite different sets of notes - but they have almost all queried the same one specific point in the book.

The third story, latterly known as ‘The Hijackers of Thrax’ (the original title, if one existed, is unknown), appeared in TV Comic #690 (6 March 1965) to #692 (20 March 1965). The strip was later reprinted in Doctor Who Classic Comics #13 (10 November 1993).

TV Comic was required to routinely submit a synopsis for each of their proposed strip stories to BBC Enterprises for approval. This was so that if something was considered to be too similar to an aspect of a planned television serial, or deemed inappropriate, it could be sent back to TV Comic with a request for changes before it was developed as a full script or an illustrated strip.

The storyline for the ‘The Hijackers of Thrax’ was submitted in January 1965. Donald Wilson (Head of Serials, Drama Television) asked Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert for her comments. Lambert wrote back, “It’s quite obvious what this is based on!! But it’s OK by me if it’s OK by you.”

Is it “quite obvious” though? What did Verity think it was based on? This question has puzzled myself and my proofreaders.

Although the correspondence between Lambert and Wilson has survived, the copy of the synopsis which would have once been attached to this memo has not. It is reasonable to assume however, considering that the story was approved without changes, that the synopsis bore a strong resemblance to the strip as it appeared in print.

So what’s the story about? Here’s my summary:

A spaceship delivering food and supplies from Earth to a colony on Venus in the year 2075 goes missing soon after leaving Earth. This is the seventh supply ship to disappear without trace. The TARDIS lands on a space station where the crew of the missing supply ships are imprisoned. The station is run by Captain Anastas Thrax and his pirates. The station is hidden from Earth in a cloud of mist, and the hijacked cargo is sold on the black market. Thrax locks up the Doctor and his companions John and Gillian, but John overpowers their guard and frees the rest of the prisoners. Some of the prisoners leave in a supply ship to warn Earth about the space pirates. Led by the Doctor, the remaining prisoners overpower Thrax’s men. Thrax is captured and forced to show the Doctor the mist-generating machine. The machine is destroyed and the mist clears, revealing the location of the station to Earth’s space police, who arrive to apprehend Thrax and his pirate crew.

So what was it that Verity recognised as so familiar and obvious in this story?

Please let me know if you have any ideas, because I’m stumped!

22 January, 2012

Powershop of the Daleks

This advert for New Zealand company Powershop (a standalone subsidiary of state owned Meridian Energy) is currently appearing on various pages on the news website Stuff, and presumably elsewhere as well.

Last month Powershop were forced to drop another advert in this campaign which featured an Darth Vader, following a request from Lucasfilm's lawyers who understandably objected to the unauthorised use of the character.

Powershop are now using an image closely resembling a Dalek. Close enough I believe to raise the ire of the BBC and Terry Nation's estate. There is certainly no wording an the advert to indicate that either party has approved its use.

The artwork isn't terribly original either. It is clearly based on artist Richard Jennings' cover of The Dalek Book, published by Panther Books/Souvenir Press in 1964.


In addition to the online adverts, this artwork is also being used by Powershop elsewhere. Posters featuring Powershop's Dalek have been spotted on display in bus shelters around New Zealand.

The above photo was taken by Simon Granville (that's his reflection!) at the corner of Victoria and Dixon streets in Wellington on Saturday 21 January.

Simon says, "I've seen the poster in a couple of other places too, including along Arthur St on Wellington's bypass and on a huge poster on the side of a building on Stout St near the train station, both highly visible places." Simon adds that the posters have appeared very recently. "I first saw them on Saturday, and I would have noticed if they'd been there last weekend, so they're only a week old at most."

Incredibly, there's more. Powershop has an online game for visitors to their site to play. The game is called Merry Xmas from Santa's Robot Helpers. The eponymous robot helpers are Daleks, and fairly accurately rendered ones at that - with the addition of a jetpack for the player's character, a red Dalek.

The simplistic game involves moving the red Dalek across a landscape, picking up gift-wrapped boxes along the way, and then blasting fifteen brown Daleks to end the game and deliver the gifts to Santa Claus.

The Christmas theme suggests that the game hasn't just been added to the site but has probably been there for at least a month. Here's a screenshot from the game:

(Thanks to Jon Preddle for pointing out the game)