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Terry Hooper-Scharf

Sunday 29 May 2011

Black Tower Comics & Books

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Major Problems In British Comics

A few months ago I drew criticism when I reportted that Disney were preparing to “Clean-up the Marvel house”.  Responses such as: “Yeah, I’ll believe that –not!” and “Rubbish. Disney have said they’ll not mess about with Marvel!” were amongst the indignant comments.

Disney, in financial trouble itself, purchased Marvel that was in an even worse state and investors couldn’t move the sale on fast enough.  Disney is a “family company” to the point of facism.  The darker look of Marvel comics soon vanished.  Talking to people in comics at last weeks Expo most of them noted that Marvel was going back to the less dark old look bit-by-bit.

Who decided Marvel had to clean-up?  Well, I couldn’t possibly say!

I noted Marvel UK (Panini) were, like other non-US Marvel outlets, about to get a very sharp pencil right up its posterior.  I was wrong.  I was told so.

Then the news, suddenly all over the net, spread.  Here is what Nigel Dobbyn wrote on his Face Book:
“You may have read that Disney, having taken over Marvel Comics, has decreed that no originated Marvel product can now be created in Britain. I have worked on every issue of Panini’s Spiderman and Friends title (for pre-schoolers) for over five years, but after a few more issues, that will all be over.

The thing that really sucks is that this is not a decision based on sales of the comic, which still seem to be healthy. If it was, I would understand completely, but simply seems to be a heavy-handed way on Disney’s part to take control of their new ‘empire’.

Spiderman and Friends was a great way to draw very young readers into the world of Marvel and comics in general.

It will be a great blow for Panini UK to lose these Marvel contracts. I hope they manage to survive this.”
I’ve been writing (or was up until 2006) a British Comic Industry Annual Report that began in 1993.  At that time it was 65% accurate on its predictions of coming events and trends, though when the reports were released those who KNEW what was going on said I was wrong, wrong, wrong!  But I was right, right, right!  By 2003 the reports were 95-97% accurate.

So, when you meet pros at the convention who say they knew this was coming for a couple months (the actual phrase all used was “It’s been in the cards for a month or two”)  you ask: “and what did you do about it?”

The replies? well the standard reply was: “What could I do about it?”

Over and over I explained that if all the creators got together they could do two things: create new projects of original material to submit to Panini to see whether the company might take the chance on an original title.  Or, secondly, do what Jim Lee and the others did years ago:create your own imprint run and edited/published by you -you’re all experienced pros who have names that can be used to promote or push new books.
Again, the reply was generally “But that’s putting my own money into it” (!!)  Usually there was the added “This puts me out of work now and its going to be very hard to find comic work”

So, long faces and misery all around because these people are out of work and are going to find new work hard.  But there are the two options.  And, yes, “shaky times” for comics (well, not really, like all previous recessions comics are not doing that badly), but unlike a lot of new talent launching with no experience in the field or pro name to attract buyers and who are succeeding, you have that edge.

While Marvel and DC monthly title sales drop (that’s a debate for elsewhere) Cinebook-The 9th Art has seen its US and UK sales alone rise by 35-45%.  Markosia seems to have hit a jackpot with Slaughterman’s Creed -a team of relatively unknown talent (though Vicky Stonebridge should be a well known name).
You have the choice: moan and groan about how mean it all is or grow a set and take the chance that if it succeeded would mean no reliance on a company that really does not give a crap about you and dumps you quickly with a “Hey-ho, such is life!”

I also spoke to other UK pros and it seems the UK comics industry is not changing. Its still the same “creators are two-a-penny” attitudes.  One colourist noted that he was asked to take a 45% cut in payment per page.  Contacting the rest of the team the idea was “if we unite they’ll have to back down!” The other team members folded as soon as they were told they were getting the 45% cut.  No arguements. Roll over. The artist in this case felt he had to accept the cut.

Interestingly I heard a very similar story from another artist but in this case it was a 40% cut in their page rate -full colour art,too.  As in the first case the rest of the team dropped their pants and said “yes” straight away.
The UK comics industry is the only one  where employees/freelancers roll over like this. Please, do not give me any excuses.  If you fold like this you are killing the future of British comics and making it easy for company bosses to treat every other creator like a slave.

I’ve been in these situations and I’ve stood my ground and the companies had to stick with the deal I’d made with them. On two occasions I did walk and made it very clear to the person I was dealing with, and later his boss by letter, that if they told me they were also having their pay reduced fair enough but as they had no respect for me as a creator I had none for them (both lost their jobs a year later and bleated on about how unfair it all was -I couldn’t sleep for laughing).

The UK comics industry is retarded compared to the US, Europe and even smaller countries further afield.  No one stands their ground or demands to be treated with respect.  So, the companies laugh and treat creators like dirt.

Comic shops take whatever silly distribution deal they got because they don’t want to rock the boat.
I spoke to a man who had gone to a few comic shop owners and said he wanted to set up a distribution service.  Out of ten shop owners not one said they were interested “If something goes wrong a year down the line Diamond will make us pay!” were two responses.  The others? “Uh, no. We’re happy with the deal we have” -but these were shop owners who had been bleating to me that we needed another distributor because they were fed up with Diamond!!!

I don’t see it as my task to right the comics industry from top to bottom. It is far too late for that. Everyone in the industry is to blame for allowing the situations to continue.  The sad thing is that European publishers have seen that the UK is a viable market and once they move in and succeed, and they will, the home grown British industry is dead.

Independent Comics in the UK and Small Press books will be the last stronghold for creators -and they don’t pay even if they do sell well.

Wampus -A French Classic

Wampus volume 1
Writer:Franco Frescura Artist: Luciano Bernasconi
foreword by Will Eisner,
cover by Stephen R. Bissette:
Contains:Epilog in Manhattan by Lofficier & Bernasconi
Paperback book size: 20 x 12.5 cms
Black and white
231 pp
US$20.95 + $3.00 p&h
(European orders: send 25 Euros postage included)

Wampus is legendary. I’ve seen the odd page and, of course, read the Cool French Comics bio:

But when Jean-Marc Lofficier sent me a copy of his Hexagon Comics book it was the first time I had seen a full strip.  I sat down and read the book cover-to-cover and even went back to just look through the art itself.
WAMPUS is an alien shapeshifter who has been sent by an evil cosmic intelligence –the “Great Mind” – to destroy Earth.  He is discovered and pursued by French secret agent, Jean Sten.  If you’ve seen the TV series The Invaders then you know how Roy Thinnes’ character has seen the aliens but no one (initially) believes him so he goes off in pursuit of them and tries to thwart their plans.  This is the situation Sten finds himself in.

His boss, Alain Boucher, thinks Sten has lost it. When his fellow agents are called in to hear Sten’s story well, derision seems to be the best word to describe the reaction! A shape-shifting alien with power beam eyes behind a spate of sabotage incidents?  It’s not surprising that Boucher sends a couple of agents along with an ambulance crew to help Sten by taking him to a psychiatric hospital.  Luckily, Sten escapes.
The one thing that burns in Sten’s mind is the image of Wampus’ eyes –no matter what form he takes on those eyes remain!

Even when Sten corners Wampus something happens to prevent his capturing or killing the alien whose kill rate  is by now in the many thousands.  What is worse, Sten’s former colleagues think he is behind the sabotage incidents.

As for “The Great Mind” I have to admit that at one point I even wondered whether it was meant to be Satan!  Paris, Berlin, New York and Tokyo all suffer at the hands of Wampus and there can be very little doubt that not only is it one of the great comic book aliens but he is also one of comics greatest villains.
I can’t recommend this book enough.  We see the classic Franco-Belgian characters such as Tintin and Blake and Mortimer but Hexagon comics have made the wonderful decision to bring us the –wanting for a better word- the French ‘Marvel-type’ characters.

Even while writing this review I’ve stopped to read through the book again.  Volume 2…oh, how long do we have to wait for that?!

This is a nice chunky book and a great read.

Highly recommended.

Hexagon comics character biography:
Bernasconi on Wikipedia:
On the ever useful and first visited Lambiek:

Sonic The Hedgehog #225

“One Step Forward …”: Sonic’s 25th Anniversary begins HERE with a double-sized Gatefold cover! Dr. Eggman’s newest creation threatens all of Mobius, forcing Sonic to team up with the evil Ixis Naugus. It’s a race against time with a world-changing ending you won’t believe! The prelude to “Genesis” starts here with this anniversary issue!
SCRIPT: Ian Flynn
ART:Tracy Yardley!, Terry Austin, John Workman & Matt Herms
Gatefold Cover by Patrick Spaziante
Shipping Date: 5/18/2011
On Sale at Comic Shops: 6/1/2011
Newsstands: Week of 6/7/2011
Comic, 32 pgs, 40 lb. glossy stock, Full-Color
$2.99 US

D-GRUPPE -Germanys FIRST Super Team -OUT NOW!

D-Gruppe:Revenge Of The Ice Queen
Hooper-Scharf/B.R. Dilworth/John Erasmus
black & white
31 pp
Comic Album (A4)

Growing up in rural Germany wasn’t so bad.  No British comics, of course, but I had access to Bastei comics such as Silberpfiel, Buffalo Bill, Lasso, Schwarzer Wolf as well as the ubiquitous Disney comics and those produced by Kauka Verlag.

But in the UK I’d been used to The Purple Hood, Billy The Cat, The Steel Claw in British comics as well as US super hero comics.  Wastl was the only German character in a costume I could find and it turned out he was Belgian!  In the 1980s came Mykros and Fotonik but they were French.

There simply were no German super heroes.  Of course, later in the 1980s Helge “Herod” Korda (writer) and Stefan Dinter (artist) produced the parody Heroes From The Black Lagoon.  But that was a loong time later.

Fairy tales were big on German tv and there were quite a few involving dwarves.  So I created a German dwarf hero who was quite an acrobat.  Later I thought that rather than just make him athletic I’d make him a genius -Klaus von Happe (“Kopfmann”) was born.

The full story of how Revenge Of The Ice Queen came about and how it was published is in this book as are a few previously lost pages!

The very talented John Erasmus drew a Deutscher Michael back-up strip in the 1980s which was in full glorious colour.  Sadly, its only grey-toned here!

The real surprises in D-Gruppe’s lives start with Zeitgeist which should be out around July/August of this year. New faces, the power back-up Kopfmann always wanted for D-Gruppe and more.

Dene Vernon:The THING Below -OUT NOW!!

Terry Hooper (writer)  Gavin Ross (artist)
black and white
Comic Album (A4)

He was the first British comics investigator of the supernatural. Dene Vernon -Man Of Mystery! Dene Vernon gets his first adventure in 60 years. Set in the late 1940s, Vernon is recovering from a previous case when he is called upon to investigate mystery deaths in London dockland. Despite the assistance of one of the Silvermaigne family, famous werewolf, demon and vampire hunters, it looks as though the threat of Lorimed may be the Man of Mystery’s last….

There is, as always, a text piece in the book to fill you in on the character in case you’ve never heard of him before!

Gavin Ross previously drew Chung Ling Soo and The Jade Dragon and this is his first full book.  And what a job he’s made of it in super quick time!

One of the lost Golden Age British comic characters, this story is the first new Dene Vernon mystery in 60 years.  Like the blurb says -it might be his last.

Out In June!

Strip Magazine launches in November!

Despite the disappointment of a French industrial dispute that meant copies of STRIP Magazine Issue Zero didn’t arrive in the UK in time for the Bristol Comic Expo, they’re now here and we are aiming to get them out to British comic fans as soon as possible. Multiverse editor Mike Conroy has kindly offered to insert copies into subscription envelopes of his fine comics news magazine and we’re hoping to get copies to the 2D Festival in Northern Ireland next weekend, as well as other comics events over the summer.
You can also view this sampler issue, which comes wrapped in a cover by artist Smuzz, online at:
Included in the Magazine are details of our STRIP CHALLENGE, inviting comic creators to pitch their creations at us for possible publication. Full details of that Challenge are also online at:
We’re delighted to announce that advance copies of the hardcover edition of Mirabilis: Year of Wonders – Winter Book 1 are now on sale exclusively from First Age Comics, Lancaster.
A huge graphic novel project by Dave Morris and Leo Hartas, Mirabilis is a fantasy adventure story for young adults which opens New Year’s Day 1901, when a green comet appears in the sky. As it gets bigger, the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Soon there are mermaids in the Thames, elves in Parliament and a dragon roosting on Big Ben. But then the comet rounds the sun and starts to fade. Will the world be able to go back to a life without magic?
The full-colour graphic novel was originally serialized in The DFC, the weekly print comic published by Random House UK, who financed the production and has been released as a digital edition for iPad.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the production design on these books,” says Dave Morris. “Typography, colours and layouts all add to the reading experience, and Print Media have carried all that through with professionalism and a real eye for detail.
“The end result is not simply our comic between hard covers, but a beautiful work that we think readers will treasure.”
Mirabilis: Year of Wonders Volume 1 was solicited by Diamond (Order Code FEB111949), joining Keith Page and Stephen Walsh’s Iron Moon title as the first graphic album projects from the new British company. Both albums will be re-solicited in July Previews.
• Advance copies are available now only from First Age Comics, The Assembly Rooms, Lancaster; order it online from the First Age eBay Store