Friday, May 25, 2007

Star Wars and Me.

Thirty years ago today, while I had just mastered solid food and was embarking on the tricky business of learning to walk, a tiny little independent movie was released in a small number of cinemas in the USA. It was distruibuted by 20th Century Fox, who were the only studio willing to distribute what seemed to everyone else to be an obvious turkey.

At that point in time the movie in question was simply titles "Star Wars", and had yet to gain it's subtitle of "Episode IV: A New Hope", and while I was far too young to go to the cinema to see it (being still in nappies), when it finally made it to this side of the Atlantic (early in 1978, I believe) it captured the imagination of a generation of children - my sister's generation. I think she only got to see the film at the cinema once, but she read the novel and the Marvel UK reprint of the comic book adaptation and commiteed them to memory. She was, in her school playground, THE Star Wars expert. She knew EVERYTHING.

Now, my big sister is fab, and I've always wanted to be just like her (apart from the whole having breasts and being a girl part) and so it's no great shock that I inherited her reverence of Star Wars. In 1980 a sequel was released, The Empire Strikes Back, and despite turning four in the year of its release, I can still recall being taken to the cinema to see it. I don't recall actually watching it as I fell asleep (hey, I was, like, three!), all I remember is a lot of white and then...a lot of black as I was asleep. Ah well...

Despite being a girl, my sister had, I seem to recall, built up a collection of Star wars toys, and as she grew older and moved onto being interested in Tears for Fears, dressing as a "futurist" and sitting in her room being miserable about the boy of the week, these were passed on to me, and I still vividly recall the birthday that I received the Millennium Falcon on, and the Christmas that saw the Empire strike back (sorry) with their very own AT-AT. I remember sending off for the accessory kit which meant that my Luke Skywalker figure could finally use a grappling line to attack the AT-AT, and receiving Nein-Numb through the post. (Oh, and I...ahem...inherited my sister's copies of the novelisation of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Splinter of the Mind's Eye - she's welcome to try and retrieve these from my cold, dead hands someday...).

And I recall being in a small newsagent/post office kind of shop and seeing a paperback version of the comic book adaptation of the new film, just two weeks before its release. I couldn't resist, and begged my mum to buy it for me, thus ruining every surprise that Return of the Jedi had in store for me, but I didn't care - this was MY Star wars film, that I could finally see on the big screen. I was seven years old, and Star Wars was my world. I think that I got to go and see it for my birthday, with my best friend from down the road. It was about the same time we moved to our new house.

My father must have drawn some kind of short straw, because I clearly remember him taking me to see BOTH Ewok films at the cinema. I can't think what he did to deserve this. Presumably my mother had to endure some kind of shopping trip with my sisters (I have two, the other one never really caught the Star Wars bug like we did).

Something interesting happened shortly after this, the video rental revolution. The release of the Star Wars trilogy to rent on video helped to spur this on, and the release of the Empire Strikes Back to rent, just happened to coincide with my being off school for a week, aged 8, while I recovered from, ahem, a popular Jewish operation. The store said that my mum was the second person to rent ESB, she'd had to put her name down on a waiting list. I'd seen A New Hope on TV, of course, and Jedi at the cinema the year before...but now I could finally hear those chilling words "No, Luke....I am your father..."

Gradually the toys started to disappear from the shelves...but I still loved Star Wars. I joined the Fan Club, and devoured every issue of Bantha Tracks, hoping for news of the rumoured Sequels and Prequels (this was looong before we had the internet to discuss such things). I begged my parents to buy me a replica Luke Skywalker Dagobah fatigues jacket...they did...I looked so cool in that....heh...

Then the films were released to own on VHS, and my mum ordered them specially from the video store for my Christmas present, all three films (looking back, that can't have been cheap...thanks mum and dad!), unfortunately only A New Hope arrived in time for Christmas day, and it had no sound! I don't remember being too disappointed though - I knew that i was going to own all three films and could watch them as much as I wanted.

And then came the dark times...the fan club had to close down because there simply wasn't enough interest in Star Wars to keep it going. They promised to let me know when and if it started up again (they didn't). It's strange, most histories of the last thirty years of Star Wars seem to forget this time existed. I always get frustrated when I hear some celeb saying how they've ALWAYS loved Star Wars and have ALWAYS been a huge fan. But there was a time when no-one, save us faithful few, loved Star Wars. It was old news, forgotten, people simply moved on. I picked up the Han Solo trilogy of novels for next to nothing at a car boot sale, but there was nothing new coming out.

Then Star Wars started to come back. Again, most histories of Star Wars go a little wrong here too, as they cite Timothy Zahn's excellent trilogy of Star Wars novels as being what resurrected Star Wars, but it started before that. To my recollection, there were two things that seriously brought about the rebirth of Star Wars, one was the advent of "Widescreen" and the re-release of the original trilogy in this new format (again, another Christmas present from my mother, and, again, only A New Hope on Christmas Day...but the joy of watching the WHOLE trilogy, with nothing shaved off the sides - it was like watching all three films for the first time again - even if we did onyl have a tiny 15" TV to watch them on at the time!). The second thing that resurrected Star Wars, in my view, was the West End Games roleplaying game. OK, so I had no-one to play it with, but I devoure dthe rule book and the source books, immersing myself in my favourite fictional universe. Oh, and, in the back of the roleplaying game rule book - there was an application form to join the NEW fan club...

And so I was introduced to the joys of Star Wars Insider, and the catalogue that filled its centre pages. Oh, and for some reason, my dad had forgotten to give me any pocket money for, like, a year, and so owed me big time...and there, in the catalogue, was a shiny Don Post replica Darth Vader helmet. If only Tony had nominated me for a "You Look Like a Dark Lord of the Sith" award...

It's hard to get everything in chronological order, but, at some point, LucasArts brought out two of the greatest PC games ever....X-Wing and Dark Forces (OK, Dark Forces wasn't one of the greatest games ever, but its sequel, Jedi Knight, was). I fully emersed myself in these digital version of that galaxy far, far away...but there was one thing I steadfastly resisted - those darn Timothy Zahn novels. They weren't by Lucas, they weren' canon, and I didn't want to read them (feel free to imagine me huffing and crossing my arms here).

Then, when I was eighteen, I was called up to do jury duty, and rightly anticipating a lot of sitting around and waiting, I decided to buy a book to occupy my time...and....yes...I caved and bought Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. Roughly 100 books later, and my bookshelf is groaning under the weight of my Star Wars novel collection. It's had it's high point and lowpoints, and I'm still trying to regain my enthusiasm for the series in the wake of the disappointing New Jedi Order, but it's certainly help keep my love of the Saga alive.

This is going on a bit, isn't it? Suffice it to say that Star Wars was back, and following the success of the Expanded Universe, the roleplaying game, and the rerelease of Star Wars in Widescreen on VHS, Lucas decided to rerelease the trilogy in 1997 on the big screen for teh series' 20th anniversary. Somewhat controversially, he used the assocaited restoration project to return to the movies and, in his view, finish what he'd begun. Advances in sfx in the ensuing twenty years meant that scenes and effects that were well beyond the technology available to him in 1977 could now be fully realised according to his original vision. Now, arguments about who shot first aside, I personally loved the '97 special editions, although I'm less sure about some of the changes made to the recent DVD releases.

Little did we know at the time, but the work on the special editions was just a warm up for the big event - Lucas was finally ready to take the plunge and make a film that had to live up to over twenty years worth of fan expectations, a film that needed to surpass the dreams and imaginings of millions of people who were now well into adulthood, and had spent their life wondering about thing only hinted at in the original trilogy. The clone wars. The Dark Lords of the Sith. Could Lucas possibly make a film that could satisfy these people. Of course not...that would have been on a par with producing documentary footage that prooved that Father Christmas was alive and well and living at the North Pole with a small army of elves. The Phantom Menace could do nothing but disappoint. Despite breathtaking ligthsaber fights, and one of the most spectacular action sequences in movie history - the podrace - we simply weren't eight anymore.

That's not to say that Lucas doesn't take any of the blame - perhaps bringing some other people in to help with the script would have helped him see that Jar Jar Binks was...ah...possibly annoying...and that the Neimodians seemed to be a little too Japanese for modern sensitivities. But, nevertheless, this was Star Wars, and I'm still reserving judgement on all of the prequels until I've lived with them for at least a decade.

Attack of the Clones was a step in the right direction - although no-one was buying the "chemistry" between Anakin and Padme...and Revenge of the Sith perhaps saw the series return to, at the very least, Return of the Jedi levels. But for me, the feel of the original series has been more kept alive in the expanded universe. I have more of a fondness for the likes of Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn and Corran Horn than I do for Qui Gon jinn, Padme Amidala and Mace Windu.

So...Star Wars is thirty. Thank you George Lucas, for firing my imagination for three decades. Without Star Wars there'd be no Battlestar Galactica, no Star Trek Movies...Next Generation, DS9, Voyager or Enterprise, there'd be no Firefly or Serenity...there'd be no Spaceballs, Hardware Wars, Revelations or Threads of Destiny...and...of course...there'd be no Slam Ridley.

There are rumours of a new film, set in the time of the Knights of the Old Republic, but I don't believe a word of it. Rather, Star Wars is set to return to the place where it's enjoyed the most the form of videos and dvds...Star Wars is coming to television, in the form of a live action series, and a CGI series. We can only hope that Lucas will solely function as executive producer on these and, like the expanded universe, hand the reigns over to a new generation of writers, who have a real feel for what Star Wars IS, rather than what he always wanted it to be. Less Jedi....more scruffy looking nerf-herders and their beaten up tramp freighters that have got it where it counts...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Online Portfolio

Further to my hightened search for paying freelance work, you can now peruse a gallery of samples of my colouring and inking work on my deviantArt here.

The lovely Cher has also combed Digital Webbing for me and I've emailed a ton of people offering paid inking and lettering we'll see.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Make Mine Slam!

Well, I've had a bit of trouble getting back into the swing of things, post-Bristol, but thankfully the talented array of artists we have at OUC have been a bit more on the ball. So, without further ado, from the red hot pencil of Mr Paul Ridgon, your first look at Mr Slam Ridley's final look (after going through Paul's original design, and Garth's redesign, we now have Paul's new design):

Not only that, but our hot new pin-up artist, Marco Guaglione, has started work on a Kyouri pin-up, and here are the rough pencils to whet your appetite:

I haven't been completely slacking myself, though. I've finished up the plot to Hero: 9-5 #1, which I'll be passing on to an artist we hooked up with in Bristol as soon as it's typed up, and I've also written a short story entitled "Ghost Boy" for Eleventh Hour #2, which I just need to add panel descriptions to before sending off to an artist that I'm hoping will agree to pencil it.

I'm also more actively seeking freelance inking, colouring and lettering work (as in, for a page rate), and will be altering some of my websites over the next week to reflect this (posting my page rates and the like). Of course, my PC is still non-functioning, which doesn't help matters, but I can at least letter on my dad's PC, and thankfully my inking brush doesn't need an operating system to function properly. I can colour on here as well, although it's not ideal (not least because the monitor simply isn't as good as mine), and I have the problem that the various colouring projects that I have on the go at the moment are all on the non-functioning PC (on my secondary drive, which if push comes to shove I can always remove and plug into this PC, but I'd rather not). Hopefully my PC will be fixed sometime this week, if not then I'm going to have to start thinking about what I'm going to do (if only I had the money to just buy a new PC, and strip out the hard drives from my old one and put them in the new one, that would solve everything, as the old PC was getting increasingly buggy anyway, and has, for some reason, always refused to update to XP Service Pack 2, which is a pain). I would ultimately like to upgrade to a much more powerful PC anyway so that I can get back into the 3D stuff, which I've kinda' let slide as the rendering times got so long.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Massively Multi-Con Super Report!

Zak meets a Stormtrooper while Aaron cowers in fear in Cher's arms...

Well, I guess I should apologise once againfor not updating for so long. My non-comic life has gone a bit wonky recently, and my initial relief at walking straight into a new job after being made redundant three months ago has turned into a strange disbelieving bemusement as my new employers found that they didn't have enough work to justify an extra designer after all. So I'm jobless. I'm also PC-less as my trusty machine seems to have given up the ghost, so I'm having to use my dad's PC to write this.


But, I digress, back to business! I have lots of great pics to share of the last three conventions we've attended, starting with Memorabilia. As you can see above, Zak got to meet a stormtrooper, but Aaron wasn't entirely convinced that this was a good thing. It turns out that both my children are actually afraid of people dressed as stormtroopers, jedi, X-Men, aliens and daleks.

Even the presence of a certain brown-suited visitor from gallifrey couldn't persuade the boys that the Dalek posed no threat to them.

The convention overall was great fun, although the drive there and back proved a little too long for both boys (and me, to be honest). We met up with fellow OUC staff member Derek hartley though, which was good.

As always at these events there was so much STUFF that we wanted to buy, but we were very self controlled and just picked up a couple of Marvel Legends figures to add to our collection (which has recently been swelled by great special offers at both ASDA and Woolworths).

Zak got a couple of Power Rangers toys, as they are his ultimate heroes. He adores the Power Rangers. Aaron's Thomas The Tank Engine radar was fully operational and in the vast convention hall he managed to find a couple of engines to add to his vast collection.

The main purpose of our trip to Memorabilia though was so that Zak could meet these guys - the Power Rangers! Sadly there was no Pink Ranger present, but Zak was still very excited to meet his heroes.

We eventually arrived back in Medway much later than we should have (their mum wasn't hugely happy about that) but a great day had been had by all. I wouldn't hugely recommend Memorabilia as a family day out though, as the sheer size of the exhibition hall means that you'll be less than half way round before the children are asking to be carried, and the people in costume can be quite scary for the little ones.

Collectormania at Milton Keynes proved a lot more reasonable drive to and from than Birmingham's Memorabilia. However, Collectormania proved to eb even less child friendly. While the exhibition hall is a lot smaller, everything is a lot more cramped and there were vast numbers of people. Small children and crowds in enclosed spaces don't really mix well, and the boys were soon tired and irritable. Plus, there was a lot more cool stuff for the boys to look at at Memorabilia, whereas Collectormania is just about buying stuff. We ended up spending most of our time in Pizza Hut, so we still had a good time, but we could have done that locally and saved on petrol! Although Collectormania does score over Memorabilia by being free to get in! Considering there's little to do at Memorabilia other than buy stuff, charging to get in seems a little unreasonable. It's like having an entry fee at your local shopping centre!

We headed back the next day without the boys, although the crowds still made it very hard to look round all the stalls. The real highlight of the weekend was at the party on the Sunday night, where we got to bear witness to Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) singing Sweet Transvestite, among other things.

I also got to meet Peter Mayhew, and got my photo taken with him with the intention of it aiding my campaign to win the "You Look Like A Wookie" award at the Two Drunk Guys In A Bar Golden Champagne Glass Awards, but due to them messing up I ended up without my picture. Still, the mess up did result in me walking through John Lewis with James Marsters. Something Cher still hasn't forgiven me for.

We left Collectormania early so that me could race to London for a screening of the classic animated Transformers: The Movie. Suffice it to say that Cher left the cinema transformed (sorry) into a rabid Transfan!

And now onto the big one - The Bristol International Comic Expo!

Pretty much everything that could go wrong in the week before BICE, did go wrong. I lost my job, my PC died, and our comics failed to arrive (and we're still waiting for them now, thank Ka-Blam!). I'd been working on a promo video for OUC for a few weeks, and the PC died as I clicked "Burn", leaving me a morning to redo it with images downloaded from our myspace page on my dad's PC.

As you can see from the picture, getting everything ready to take to the event took the form of organised chaos, with goodie bags and audio/video equipment spread all over the floor. For some reason we'd decided that it would be a good idea to organise the film night at BICE, for some reason the organisers of BICE had agreed, and God only knows what had possessed us to decide to make up goodie bags for the first fifty people through the door. As Derek kept pointing out, based on the attendance from rpevious years, fifty people coming through the door on the night was really wishful thinking.

We'd originally intended to leave early and get to Bristol at 2pm at the very latest. However, we had no comics and were clinging to the hope that they'd arrive at the eleventh hour (pun intended). That, combined with some other stuff going spectacularly wrong, meant that we didn't leave Medway until 2pm, and an accident on the M25, combined with roadworks on the M4, and hitting the outskirts of Bristol at rush hour, meant that we didn't get to the Ramada Plaza Hotel until around 7.30pm (and we still had to find our hotel!).

Still, from here on in things started to run smoothly. We set up our banner stands in the room where we were holding the Film Night and tested all the DVDs, which all worked perfectly. To our great relief, the DVD for Highlander: Search for Vengeance was indeed waiting for us when we arrived and as you can see from the photo, people actually turned up. Indeed, so many people turned up that we ran out of goodie bags. The film night was a huge success and we've been asked to host it again next year. We've already been brainstorming ideas to make the event even bigger and better.

Proceedings finally came to a close at 3am, and we had to be up at 7am to set up our stand in the main exhibition hall! Despite not having any comics out table was somehow overflowing with stuff, and I can't help but think that we'll need a bigger table next time. The convention got off to a fairly slow start for us, as people semeed to be wandering around looking at stuff before buying at first. Things picked up in the afternoon, however, and we sold over half of our preview copies of Eleventh Hour on the first day. People also gave generously to the Orang Utan Foundation. The 32" LCD HD TV was hugely successful at drawing people to our stand (even if the Tokyopop people opposite us did have a bigger TV!).

Throughout the day we showed a selection of fan films, including Star Wars: Revelations, a teaser trailer for forthcoming Firefly fanfilm Bellflower, Batman: Dead End, AMV Hell 3, and many more. We managed to completely block the aisle we were on while we showed World's Finest (a team up between Batman and Superman) and Batman: Dead End (Batman vs Alien vs Predator). AMV Hell 3 also drew big crowds, with people standing at our stall for the full hour and a half running time (during which we waved our products in their general direction and enticed them to buy our wares). The big screen TV will definitely continue to be a feature of our stand at future conventions.

While most of the Saturday was spent at the stand, I did manage to get away for the Markosia panel, which was much better attended than last year's. Markosia have got a lot of big things in the pipeline and I'm particularly looking forward to their adaptation of Beowulf.

Saturday night saw us head to the Ramada bar for the infamous Two Drunk Guys In A Bar Golden Champagne Awards where our evry own Derek Hartley picked up the "Most Likely To Commit Murder In Our Name" awards, Cher picked up the "Scariest Fan" award and I completed OUC's award winning hat-trick with tyhe "You Look Like A Wookie" award. The ceremony was great fun and I can't wait for next year's awards. While everyone else seemed determined to drink well into the wee small hours, Cher and myself knew our limits and headed back to our apartment for some much needed sleep.


The heaven's opened and created a much more subdued atmosphere on the Sunday (either that or everyone was really hung over). We sold less comics, saw less people, and there was generally an atmosphere of tired dampness about the whole convention. It rained so hard that one of the roads linking the main convention hall and the Ramada had to be closed due to a giant puddle (which I believe had developed its own tidal system).

The high point of Sunday was, of course, Hypotheticals, which went incredibly well, despite being moved to the Sunday. Cher somehow managed to get involved, being pulled from the audience by dave Gibbons to ask him a question (as he'd heard her interview with Budgie on Area-51 and knew she was good at that sort of thing). Budgie claims that it wasn't planned in advance and went to the lengths of producing the script in the bar later to prove this. I don't think Cher's 100% convinced that she wasn't set up. The panel wasn't quite as crazy as last years (mainly due to everyone being hung over rather than drunk, and the absence of Jamie Boardman), but it was still excellent.

After Hypotheticals we all headed back to the stand to find that everyone in the main hall was packing up, so, like the sheep we are, we joined in and packed up too! All that remained was to head back to the Ramada bar for a couple of hours to chill out and say goodbye to everyone. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to give the last two copies of the Eleventh Hour preview comic to Kurt Busiek and Alan Davis (who I gushed to about being such an inspiration to embarassing). Then we crawled back into the car and headed back home. Thanks to everyone who made it such a great weekend, we'll see you all at Brumcon!

And for those of you that missed it, here's the OUC promo video:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I Am The Wookie-est!

It's a proud honour to be nominated for a prestigious Two Drunk Guys In A Bar Golden Champagne Glass Award in the hotly contested "You Look Like A Wookie" category.

I'm up against stiff competition in the form of top comic book writing legend Alan Moore, so I need all the votes that I can get.

So, please, vote is your is....the only way...

Go here to find out more.

I'd like to thank Tony and Dan and the makers of fine alcoholic beverages everywhere for making this nomination possible...