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!