Thursday, 30 June 2011

Doctor Who: Rat Trap review

And so, all too soon, we come to the end of the trilogy of stores featuring the Fifth Doctor and his dream team of companions.
This adventures sees them land up in… I was about to type ‘contemporary’ England, but it is actually the early 1980s, which, I fear, tells you all you need to know about  just how terribly old I am..!
This is in many ways a thoroughly old fashioned story, with the companions getting separated early and lots of running up and down corridors. There are also some creepy monsters that, in my minds eye at least, would not be out of place around the ‘Awakening’ and ‘Frontios’ era of Who. (Although I have just read on the Big Finish site that it is set between Enlightenment and The King's Demons)
The only real problem I had with this otherwise exciting tale was the at times heavy handed way the message was hammered home. The story is quite clearly a strong anti-vivisection statement, and as such it did not really need the characters to be told “Ah! But that’s what you do to animals”, as happens more than once.
The big monster though, is a wonderful creation straight out of folklore, and one that has been well used before in comics and novels , which is, of course, a Good Thing.
As I have said before, I have really enjoyed this short series of tales, they have all had a really authentic feel to them, and I shall repeat myself again in saying that the cast are clearly having way too much fun for something that they are being paid for.
The ending here is not quite final, so I hope that we see more from this cast again sooner rather than later. Yes, I know they all have other things to do, but I want my audio adventures, dammit!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Dead of Veridon review

This is the second book in (what I assume) will be a series set in the city of Veridon. 
In case you don’t know, Veridon is a kind of sci-fi/ steampunk city which in inhabited by a cast of strange characters and is powered by incredible cog-driven technology.
I should confess right now that I had not read the previous book in this series when this one fell into my hands. But, you know when you read reviews where the reviewer says that you don’t need to read the first book before reading this one, and it is not always true? Well, I can confidently say that in this case it is.
Author Tim Akers is deft at weaving the backstory of the main character and explaining what has gone on previously into the main narrative of this book. This, it should be made clean, is no mean feat. It takes a writer of some skill to do this without it looking clunky.
But anyway- on with the book!
Looking back on it after reading it I realised just how ridiculously fast paced it is. It’s a fairy large tome at 360-odd pages, but in no way seems it. The writing is very very good indeed. The plot is just brilliant- I’m not particularly well read in either the steampunk or zombie genres (genri?), so this book, which from a certain light could be seen as a combination of the two, is a treat.
There are a few stand out sequences in here – but my dislike of spoilers forbids me from talking about a lot of when goes on here- but the scene depicted in the marvellous cover image (which takes place at the beginning of the book, so I think I can talk about it) in which our ‘hero’ journeys deep beneath the river that feeds the city of Veridon is supremely creepy and is a testament to Akers’s ability to paint a picture with the minimum of fuss.
Which brings us to the afore mentioned ‘hero’. It’s in inverted commas because he isn’t a hero. Jacob Burn is really just a slightly likeable, but mainly quite selfish and lazy, petty criminal who, through accident of birth and an ability to be in the wrong place, is pulled into this world of high adventure and intrigue.
Again, Akers does a great job with the characters. The dialogue, especially between Jacob and his ‘sidekick’ sparks with a wonderful warmth and humour.
So, in closing- and just in case you have missed the tone of the review- I was really impressed by this book. It was a very entertaining read- well written well plotted and very exciting.
I want to read the next one now, please.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Happy Birthday Commando!

We are, I'm afraid, fashionably late with our congratulations, as the 50th birthday of Commando comic was, in fact, yesterday.

The chaps are celebrating with a specially written issue to mark the occasion. So you better check out issue No 4404!

Fifty years and over four thousand issues- it is an astonishing achievement by any standards- here's to the same again!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Doctor Who Ghost Light audiobook review

Ghost Light is (well for the ‘passionate’ Who fan) an interesting story.
It was the last ‘old Who’ story to be recorded, although not the final one to be broadcast. I was also struck while listening to this audiobook, just how similar it is to the new series.
What I mean is this: we seem to get a lot of folks complaining that there is an almost soap opera-ish element to the new series with its long story arcs and what have you. But these people seem to forget what was going on with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. There was a whole arc of stories dealing with the Doctor and his relationship with Ace, which more or less began with this adventure.

I suspect it was not supposed to culminate where it did (with the story 'Survival'), but the cancelling of the series soon after this made it this way. And yes, I know that it continued in the Virgin books range!
This is an adaptation of Marc Platt’s Target Books novelisation of his script, and as you may know, the book contains a lot more depth and breadth than the television version, including an interesting prologue section set in the 1980s…
In the novel and audiobook, Platt takes his time to explore the house at Gabriel Chase, and each character gets their place in the spotlight as the mystery around the house unfolds.
The atmosphere created by the writing, sound design and narration, which is by Ian Hogg, is second to none. My only complaint would be that, because this is very much the story of Ace, it may have been more suited to a female voice rather than a male one, but having said this- this is still a great audio, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this range of Audiogo Who adventures.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

New 2000 AD character replicas

Now, this is press release to fill the hearts of the Hi-Ex! Team with joy:

Award-winning British comic 2000 AD® is delighted to announce Planet Replicas has been granted a licence to produce replica props taken straight from the worlds of 2000 AD’s most famous characters — including Judge Dredd.
Soon fans of Dredd, Judge Anderson, Strontium Dog, Sláine, Rogue Trooper, ABC Warriors, Zombo and the likes of Shakara and Kingdom will be able to see their heroes brought to thrill-powered life with officially licensed products.
Initial items include keyrings and full-size replica judge badges, with judge helmets and replica weaponry following soon after. Future products include complete replica judge outfits – ideal for dispensing justice to CosPlay perps! – detailed character masks, as well as further 1:1 and smaller-scale character/prop replicas.

As you may know, we're massive 2000AD fans. Every British comic fan should really be reading it, never mind those books with men in brightly coloured costumes punching each other and coming back from the dead every few months- 2000AD is where it is at, baby! And the idea of a Gene the Hackman action figure is almost too much!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Child of Eden review

It is hard to describe this game. You really need to play it to get what it is about.
Only you don’t actually play this game, it's more like you experience it.
It is strange in way… much like Star Wars is just your basic rescue the princess from the bad guy’s castle story (it even has Black Knight and everything) and Alien is merely a haunted house story- Halloween on a spaceship- Child of Eden is, when you strip everything away, a basic on rails shooter.
But, like Star Wars and Alien, it is done in such a way as to become so much more than the sum of its parts.
It took me a couple of plays of the first level to get this, but when it clicked it was a real ‘wow’ moment and from that moment on I could not get enough of this game.
There are only five levels here, and each is relatively short, but because you need to accumulate stars to open the next level, you need to replay levels again and again.
But know this- you will not mind.
This is because designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (he of Rez fame) has created something truly spectacular. The graphics are great. Mind numbingly so. Players are treated to a visual feast. Images swirl and… things... fly past. Things that cannot quite be described. And the colours. Oh man, the colours.

So, in summary: it looks divine.
And then there is the sound element of the game, where you will get better scores of you mange to kill the bad guys in time with the music, which will in turn add another layer to the beat.
Oh, and the bad guys are not bad guys as such, there is a story to this game. Something about a computer virus and you are killing of the viruses inside a computer. Never mind that though- as I said at the beginning, this is a game to experience, not just read about. 
So get it and jump right in.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


The British comics community has come together to help raise funds for disaster victims of New Zealand and Japan’s earthquakes and tsunami with a stunning new graphic novel anthology, Spirit of Hope.

Comic Book Alliance Chair Tim Pilcher, said, ‘When the earthquake hit Japan on the afternoon of 11 March 2011 the CBA, like the rest of the world, was stunned. Overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the disaster we felt impotent to do anything. But standing idly by was simply not an option. So we did what comics people do best, we put a call out to the artistic community and asked for a strip, pin-up or anything that encapsulated that devastating situation for them.’

Over 85 writers, artists, colourists, letterers and editors from across the globe all donated their time and work free of charge, to produce a powerful statement, all within an incredible two and a half weeks after the Japanese tsunami hit. Consequently, the stories have a raw emotiveness and impact that can only come from such immediacy. Just a few of the big name contributors include: Nick Abadzis (Laika, Hugo Tate) Mike Collins (Dr. Who), Sean Michael Wilson (AX), Alan Grant (2000AD, Batman) Al Davison (The Spiral Cage, The Minotaur’s Tale) Leigh Gallagher (2000AD) Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan, The Boys) Liam Sharp (Judge Dredd, Gears of War), Peter Hogan (Tom Strong) and Chris Weston (Fantastic Four, The Twelve). Plus, there are moving contributions by manga artists who experienced the Japanese earthquake first hand including, Michiru Morikawa and Akiko Shimojima.

The whole project has been edited by Alan Cowsill.

There are two covers available, a bookshop edition by Jimmy Broxton (Knight & Squire), and a limited edition for comic shops by Michael Allred (Madman, I, Zombie).

Copies of the 112pp book can now be ordered in advance at £14.99 + £3.00 p&p. Please state your preference of cover - Jimmy Broxton or Michael Allred. Advance orders will be sent out and will include three small limited edition prints of the covers and a print by Mark Buckingham (Fables). The address is: The Comic Book Alliance, PO Box 165, Marple, Cheshire SK6 7BL. Cheques & Postal Orders should be made out to 'The Comic Book Alliance'. The book can also be ordered online at:

The book will be on sale from Monday 27 June in all good comic and bookshops.

Further information can be found at the CBA website:

All the profits are being donated to the New Zealand Red Cross ( and Second Harvest in Japan (

The Spirit of Hope is being printed by Ukomiks (

The list of contributors is almost literally too long to list here- but trust us, you are going to want to buy this book!

Hi-Ex! 2010 2000AD Panel- now on YouTube!

One of the disadvantages of running a convention is that you are always so busy over the weekend of the event that you never get to see any of the, frankly, brilliant panels that are on.
But thankfully, the wonderful John Burdis, organiser of the Hi-Ex! Helltrek and keeper of the Cellar of Dredd, recorded the 2000AD panel- which featured guests Al Ewing, John Higgins, Cam Kennedy and Simon Fraser and Charlie Adlard (hey- that's a HELL of a line-up!).

You can watch it here in all it's glory:

Monday, 13 June 2011

Doctor Who Kiss of Death review

One of the great things about the Big Finish audio range is that they can delve into aspects of the series that were merely glimpsed at when they were on screen. And there is no better example of this than the adventure in question: Kiss of Death.
Here we get to peer into the back-story of companion Turlough and see more of what was hinted at in Planet of Fire.
After the Black Guardian trilogy, Turlough was, in my opinion, somewhat underused as a companion, so it is good to see him given this chance to step up into the limelight, and actor Mark Strickson certainly makes the most of it. He is called on here to flex his acting muscles in a way he never was on television as we get to meet his long lost childhood sweetheart and become embroiled in some shady dealing with intergalactic criminals.
But that’s not to say that the rest of the crew don’t have a lot to do. Nyssa, the Doctor and Tegan all have plenty to be getting on with. It was nice too, to see the Doctor do something we don’t normally see him do, but somehow assume (much like James Bond) he can do- that is: pilot a spaceship.
I’ve really been enjoying this arc of stories with the ‘dream team’, as I called them in the review of Heroes of Sontar, and the only downside of it is that there is only one more to go in this particular run.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Noise Revealed review

Writer Ian Whates returns to the universe he created in his novel The Noise Within with this latest book.
It would probably have been easy for him to retread the same paths he did in TNW, but Whates spreads his wings a bit here, and explores some interesting nooks and crannies for his creation.
I loved the section of the narrative that is set in a virtual reality world- no, stop that, no need to groan! Whates is a better writer than that, and the scenes here show some brilliant flashes of imagination, as well as (for me) the more interesting plot strand. Although at times it feels that the breadth of his imagination is just beyond his reach as a writer, which is also, it its own way, also a Good Thing. Whates is a writer who is visibly getting better as he goes along.
The story builds very well, and the characters are on the whole well written. Not all of them are likeable, but that’s okay. I did have some problems with some aspects of characterisation, but in the end, Whates knows these people better than me, so it would be wrong for me to say that the characters acted in the ‘wrong’ way- they acted in a way I did not expect, which is a Good Thing.
As I said, it builds well, and the climax is excellent.
Intriguing, exciting and filled with action… you can’t really ask for more.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

2D derry Comic Festival

This weekend was 2D- Northern Irelands Comic festival. We had heard great reports from comic creators about what a wonderful friendly event it is, so I ( Vicky ) was very happy to be asked to attend and run a Comics workshop at it.

2D is held at Londonderry / Derry in a beautiful part of Northern Ireland. Due to family and work constraints I could only attend the Saturday of the event which runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Verbal Arts centre in Derry. I’d left home in the usual last 10 minute rush hastily throwing things into a bag and leaving wet primed canvases on the easel. The usual overworked chaos was exacerbated by the fact that Richmond’s car ( the more affordable to run of our 2 ) had sprung a petrol leak, so we transferred to my dog hair filled gas guzzler to drop the dog off at my sons and complete the six hour plus journey to Troon. Ferry to Larne, overnight at Richmond’s parents, then a 5.45am start & Rich drove me to Belfast Central station for the train to Derry. Sadly I slept through what is apparently one of the worlds great railways journeys, the last mile or two which I did see were certainly scenic. Rousing my fuzzy head from sleep, I scribbled some workshop plans down in my jotter. I have a few set workshop plans, but every session is always different depending on the group of participants, so I try not to get stuck on set scripts. This workshop was to produce a one page comic strip in an hour. I would normally come laden with resources, books and comics, but with all the travelling my kit was no more than a few spare rulers and rubbers… and now some scribbled notes.

As the Taxi dropped me off at the venue, I was immediately met with a warm welcome and friendly crew, who despite being in the middle of setting up heroic Ciaran stopped to make me at feel at home with a cup of tea.
My 'How to draw comics workshop'

My workshop was first on that mornings schedule, no sooner had I gathered materials and set up than the children started to arrive, plus a few adults. When the room was full I made a start, and then more arrived, then more!  Squeezing everyone in with extra seating and grown-ups standing, It was a great session!  We warmed up with drawing cartoon self-portraits showing a range of emotions. We then looked at developing characters both with Chibi’s drawn from 3 circles and how to get from a stick figure to a dynamic action figure, building up proportions, perspective and movement. I then dashed everyone through comic layouts, terminology, backgrounds, perspective, storytelling technique, planning and they were away, everyone managing to finish their planned one page story.
part of the tank girl gallery ( this one is mine - sorry Rufus! )
Tank Girl Artist Rufus and the Tankie on a horse collection

I managed a few hello’s to the now gathered stall holders & guests busy in the main room with throngs of local families and comic fans, Grabbed a cup of tea, then headed for my table. I wasn’t expecting a table so this was a treat!  I was on the mezzanine level where the majority of the children’s activities were centred. My tea remained un drunk. It was a blur of sketching for the rest of the day,  one of the themes was Robots, so we were all drawing the children as Robots. Robots? I haven’t a clue how to draw Robots? I am old, my robots are from 50’s sci-fi films, none of your fancy transformer things!  Some children also clued into the zombie theme, So used to being ultra PC around children this was funny “ Mum are you sure its okay to draw the maggots coming out of the eyes? Mm okay “ to the children’s delight. I also drew a ‘Goth’ looking young man, only “darker” and a princess.  Face painting ladies were busy next door, but I did do a couple of Mr Green faces, what better advertising for our book than have folks wandering about painted as the main character!
Eimear and James get the Mr Green Treatment

Then there was the after party at Sandinos bar,  a blur of monkey jokes with my favourite cartoonists, wild dancing and fantastically interesting conversations with the coolest friendliest comic dudes. I’d heard 2D was brilliant, and so it was. The team worked their cotton socks off to look after everyone and provide an important cultural arts & literary event for the area. It was an honour to be invited. This festival sets the comic event bar very high!  Of all the various art and work hats I wear, comic people are the most fun, enthusiastic and friendliest people I know, and 2D brought out the best of that. I’m definitely going back!
Gary Leach signing early 2000AD's

Stephen Downy signing Slaughtermans's creed & sketching like the wind, ably assisted by Aimee

Comics and Tom Harris

We posted yesterday about the story of the new course in comics at Dundee University, and also reported the ignorant comments by the Labour politician Tom Harris.

Well, last night we posted a link to the blog on Twitter, and this started an interesting exchange with Mr Harris which started with this (rather cheeky it must be said!) suggestion from us:

Wonder if  has read V for Vendetta? It doesn't defend tax evasion, but there might be a message in there for a politician

(Yes, by the way, Mr Harris spoke out if favour of companies like Vodaphone who are blatantly avoiding paying tax in the UK)

He replied with:

 Not only have I read it - I read it when it was first published in Warrior. And I still have the issues.

And we said:

 good for you. If you like, we could ask David Lloyd to respond to your opinions on comics as education?

And his bizarre reply was:

 You do realise I was talking about comics, not advocating child slavery?

The exchange finished with our tweet:

 yes, & I know a strawman when I see one. I thought you were dismissing education in the subject as a joke-perhaps I am wrong...

Mr Harris did not reply to this to either confirm or deny his opinions on the educational power of comics.

Now... there are a few things very wrong with Mr Harris's responses.
Firstly- 'child slavery'? Where exactly did this come from? It's almost like, I dunno, he was throwing something ridiculous into the mix in an attempt to derail the subject... but surely he would not do something as crass and obvious as that, would he?
Certainly, when we ignored this and asked him about education he came back with a full and proper answer... oh wait- he didn't. Sorry, my mistake. He didn't respond to the question at all.

The other is the V for Vendetta thing- now I'm sure most of you have read it or watched the movie, so you'll know the politics of it- and it seems that, when watching the behaviour of Mr Harris and the arrogance he displays in his 'answers' that old V was not too far of being correct in his opinions...
And apart from that, the supreme irony is, of course, that V co-creator David Lloyd is a passionate advocate of comics in education- check out Cartoon Classroom to see what we mean.

All in all it is amazingly disappointing to see someone who is supposed to be a public servant - a Scottish public servant-denigrating the study of something that has made Scotland, and Dundee in particular, world famous.

We'd like to take this opportunity  to invite Mr Harris to the next Hi-Ex convention in Inverness, and perhaps he can sit in on a few classes and see just how educational comics can be.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic

This new trailer for the forthcoming (sometime...) MMORPG The Old Republic (Thank you, Matt!) looks awesome.
Very much a walk through the Star Wars greatest hits (Asteroid field! Duel of the Fates! Millennium Falcon-a-like!), but as they are very great hits to begin with, we can forgive it that one!


More details here.

Comics Degree launches in Dundee

Comics fans and creators will no doubt be very happy to hear about the new Comics degree course launching in Dundee ( mentioned on BBC today ) . This is just the sort of thing the comics industry is crying out for. Ever year at Hi-Ex we meet talented young writers and artists full of brilliant ideas and enthusiasm, every year we are limited as to what we can recommend to further their careers as creative people. Dundee has already blazed a trail with their games courses, character and concept design courses. This new degree course will definately fill a gap that people are crying out for. The traditional industries are all changing at breakneck speed, paper published graphic Novel and comic sales are slumping, but the interest in the characters, the stories, the franchises are booming, digital comic readers are exploding in use, exciting multi platform cross overs are starting to happen. The comics industry need no longer be seen as something nostaligic and limited to paper floppies, but as part of our literary, arts and creative UK cultural wealth.

When the news broke about this Degree course, unfortunately a Scottish Labour MP Tom Harris displayed the complete ignorance of Comics which is so prevalent still in our society. The storm which has been raging today across social media has been well covered in the downthetubes blog here.

It is so frustrating when education is getting cut left right and centre, children are increasingly having literacy problems, that people like this are still seeing comics as something to sneer at. Comics can get children reading, drawing, thinking creatively. Comics can help with dying and minority languages, comics can help learn other languages, Comics can also be highly sophisticated art and literary works dealing with complex social and political issues. I don't hear MP's complaining about college courses in Television and film studies, and yet I would argue that the passive and increasingly trashy medium of television is the biggest dumbing down threat to our childrens minds at the moment. 

Get out there read books and comics and study them too! 
( cartoon from this weekends 2D comic festival in Derry, by Hi-Ex 2010 guest Jim Medway )

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Doctor Who The Stones of Blood audio review

When I first saw this I thought- Wha-? Hold on! This is the third in the Key to Time stories! Where’s the second one?
Then I remembered that the second tale, The Pirate Planet, was written by a certain Mr D Adams, and thus is one of the stories that has never been adapted into a novel or  any other medium. Which is, of course, a crying shame, but not something we should concern ourselves with here.
Here we revisit the Stones of Blood, which is for my money, one of the nuttiest Who stories there is. Trans dimensional spaceships, blood drinking stones and druid magic… now, normally these things would not hang well together in a single story, but somehow David Fisher manages to throw all these disparate things at a wall and make them stick.
I have a soft spot of this story on screen- Baker has arguably never been better than he was during this period, and Mary Tamm oozes cool and class and they sparked off each other wonderfully.
But does this come across in the audio book, being that the narrator here, Susan Engel (who of course starred in the original TV production), is neither Baker or Tamm?

Well, for the most part it does, thanks to the standard of writing and the skill of the reader. There are a few times she sees to miss the beat in a line or pronounces words in an odd way, but nothing that detracts from the listeners enjoyment. And there is also the added bonus of having John Lesson cameo in the role of K-9.
Best of all? The monsters. How so, you say?
Well, as I’m sure you know, on screen the Ogri were… poor. It’s hard to make someone pushing a rock shaped object at an actor look threatening, but the description of them in the book is clever enough to actually make then seem like a credible threat.
So- Good stuff again for AudioGo- when’s the next one!?