26 April, 2013

Award Nomination

I'm delighted to report that The Comic Strip Companion has been shortlisted for an award.

My book has made it on to the final ballot for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, in the Best Professional Publication Category.

The Vogels are administered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand.

Voting will take place at AuContraire, the national science fiction convention, to be held in Wellington from 12-14 July 2013. Members of SFFANZ or Au Contraire are eligible to vote.

I'd also like to congratulate my friend Adam Christopher who has received two nominations, for Best Novel and Best New Talent.

The full list of nominations can be found here.

My book didn't win an award. Oh well, at least it was nominated. Better luck next time!

20 April, 2013

A Flawed History Lesson

Marking Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary is a monthly comic called Prisoners of Time, published by IDW, featuring a story for each of the eleven Doctors. At the back of each issue is a series of features on the history of Doctor Who in comics by various writers. 

Issue 4 (April 2013) has a two-page history of the comics from the beginning up to the present day, laid out as a series of panels with comic strip-style captions. The “history lesson on how it all came to be” (as it is headed) is presented by Dez Skinn, the man who devised Doctor Who Weekly in 1979. Skinn's own contribution to the history of the comic strip is immense; his legacy is still going strong today, as Panini's Doctor Who Magazine.

It is a shame therefore that certain aspects of this history are not particularly accurate. Some of the facts pertaining to the early years of the comic strip, prior to Dez Skinn’s involvement in 1979, are simply wrong - especially in relation to TV Comic, a publication that Skinn does not appear hold in high regard.

I want to be clear that my intention here is not to criticize Skinn, or to imply that he somehow deliberately set out to mislead. I'm simply keen to set the record straight on the subject. It does strike me as odd that no one seems to have fact-checked the piece (having written a book on this very subject, I'd have gladly offered my services).

The earliest error is to do with the television series rather than the comic strip. Discussing the beginnings of the series, Skinn states that An Unearthly Child, the opening story, was up against ITV’s The Buccaneers. In fact the first five episodes were screened against the ABC serial Emerald Soup. The Buccaneers appeared against Doctor Who on ATV London from 28 December 1963, one week into the second story.

The history then claims that The Dalek Book came out only five months after the Daleks made their television debut. This is a forgivable error, as many sources have wrongly stated that this book was published on 30 June 1964 (which is five months after the conclusion of The Daleks). It was only whilst researching The Comic Strip Companion that I learned that the book was in fact published later, on 30 September 1964. This long-standing misapprehension most likely originated because someone got one digit in the date wrong: ‘30/9/64’ became ‘30/6/64’.

This dating error has a knock-on effect when Skinn subsequently observes that the Doctor Who strip in TV Comic began "five months later". In fact The Dalek Book only preceded the TV Comic strip by about six weeks.

Perhaps the most egregious error in the whole feature is the suggestion that TV Comic did not mention the strip on the cover when it first appeared. This is plainly wrong. The first issue to feature the Doctor Who strip was #674, dated 14 November 1964. The cover of that issue clearly states: "Starts today! Doctor Who" (pictured here).

The history compounds the error by including the wrong TV Comic cover (the issue featured in the history is #709, dated 17 July 1965 - eight months later - which did not have a mention of Doctor Who).

Skinn offers the view that the strip wasn't mentioned on the cover "... maybe because they weren’t very good". That may be Skinn's opinion, but I have examined a great deal of correspondence between the BBC and the publishers of TV Comic from 1964, and there is no suggestion that the strip wasn't considered worthy of promotion. Four of the initial nine issues featuring Doctor Who have a reference to the strip on the front cover, so TV Comic could hardly be accused of failing to promote its new acquisition. Skinn makes no mention of the five month period in 1967 when the Doctor Who strip appeared in full colour on the front cover of every issue of TV Comic

The history goes on to mention The Daleks comic strip, which began in 1965. Skinn claims that the strip appeared in “TV 21”, but the comic was actually called TV Century 21. TV21 was the name given to a later relaunch of the comic in early 1968, two years after The Daleks strip ceased publication. This is an error that crops up in various places.

Another minor error involves the dating of the first World Distributors Doctor Who annual. It is claimed that it was launched for Christmas 1966, but the first annual came out a year earlier.

The history discusses the strip’s move to Countdown which later became TV Action, and states that the comic had "130 weekly issues". This is almost but not quite right: there were 132 issues.

Lastly, Skinn dismisses the later years of the TV Comic strip, claiming that with the arrival of the fourth Doctor the comic “simply ran reprints of Jon Pertwee strips with Tom Baker's face added!" There were indeed reprinted stories with Tom Baker’s features redrawn over Pertwee (and Patrick Troughton in one instance), but what Skinn doesn't mention is that this only happened in the weekly TV Comic issues for nine months from July 1978 through to the strip’s last appearance in March 1979. The history overlooks the three and a half years (a considerably longer period) prior to this when original, weekly Tom Baker strips were run in TV Comic.

I think it is clear that Skinn has a low opinion of the Doctor Who strip in TV Comic. He observes that TV Comic's license for “two reprint pages” prevented him from launching his own Doctor Who comic strip publication "for years". Presumably he is unaware that TV Comic only moved to running a reprinted Doctor Who comic strip in their weekly issues after the publishers had advised BBC Enterprises in May 1978 that they intended to quit the licence. The catalyst for this decision was probably the recent raising of the royalty rate for the strip that TV Comic was required to pay to the BBC. The timing of the strip’s last appearance in May 1979 suggests that it is likely that TV Comic may have been contractually required to give one year’s notice. If so, the very reprint strips that so irked Skinn were likely a portent that the licence was about to become available, paving the way for October 1979's triumphant launch of Doctor Who Weekly.

It is good to see that the long and fascinating history of the Doctor Who comic strip is receiving coverage with these features in the Prisoners of Time series. It is just a shame that in the case of this instalment the facts have not been accurately presented.