Sunday, 31 January 2016

ZULU: "Because we're ere lad!"

A very special Friday 'date-night' with Mrs M the other night as we saw ZULU on the big screen for the first time in 40-odd years! This is thanks to a special Classic Movie Film showing at the delightful Plaza Super Cinema in nearby Stockport.

As friends and readers of this blog will no doubt be fully aware, ZULU is of course my all-time favourite movie and merits a mention here on a regular basis, for example here and here! So, coming a week after the 137th anniversary of the real events at Rorke's Drift this was something really quite special and I'm pleased to say that the Plaza put on a great show.

The wonderful night exterior of Stockport's Plaza cinema

It's a lovely 1930's art deco cinema which was refurbished a few years ago and one that we have had the pleasure of visiting several times before but I was of course particularly excited about the prospect of seeing ZULU again.

In fact The Plaza couldn't be a more fitting venue as dating from the 1930's it's a contemporary of my Stonehaven hometown cinema where I originally saw ZULU at one of it's Saturday matinees probably in the early 1970's when I was only a wee nipper. I saw many movies during that period, Escape From Planet Of The Apes, King Kong, Doctor Zhivago, Waterloo etc but none made the vivid impression on me that ZULU did and that fascination has now lasted my lifetime and fuelled interest in that rich period of history and all things African through books, travel and of course comics!

Stonehaven's former cinema, thanks to the wonders of the internet!
Stonehaven's Big Screen!

I'm pleased to say that neither the movie or The Plaza disappointed, the evening's entertainments started with the wonderful organ playing on the cinema's stage which when completed, disappeared into the 'orchestra pit' below!

The Plaza's famous organ!

...and The Plaza's grand screen!

Then much to our delight and surprise we had a Bugs Bunny cartoon followed by a short Pathe Pictorial documentary feature just like the used to in the old days! Obviously some thought had gone into this as the Pathe feature was none other than a wee African Safari travelogue in 1960's Zululand itself, setting the scene perfectly! 

Then after a short intermission - again just like the old days but I don't recall having a bar in Stonehaven! - the main event began and as soon as Richard Burton's evocative voice over began, followed by those vivid images of the defeated British redcoats at iSandlwana and John Barry's magnificent title score I was transfixed and once again just a wee nipper enthralled by the action that unfolded. Mrs M reliably informs me that I sat there wide-eyed, mouth open and smiling!

Memorable image from Zulu's opening scene!

A youthful Michael Caine and Zulu's co-producer Stanley Baker

I am of course biased and totally enjoyed the experience no matter how many times I've seen the movie and really appreciated seeing it once again on the big screen it deserves. Mrs M too, who had seen it before - (a bit hard to avoid in our house!) - also enjoyed it, drawn in by the rounded and charismatic characters and the tension of the set pieces. Of course thanks to the like's of Ian Knight's many informative books on the period, I now know the shortcuts and liberties that the movie makers took with the real events at Rorke's Drift, however that still doesn't detract from a splendid piece of cinema and judging by the many smiling satisfied faces at the end of this special screening I wasn't the only one who was glad to be 'ere! 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Zulu Reflections

I always feel a little melancholy on this day in January (see last year, here), and it's not just the winter blues it's because on this day way back in 1879, the two most famous battles of the Anglo-Zulu War occurred, the Zulu victory at iSandlwana and the successful British defence at Rorke's Drift, (made famous of course in the 1964 movie, ZULU).

My own interest in the period of course stems from that movie and has been a passion of mine ever since developing into books, my own comic book efforts and a couple of battlefield and wider Zululand adventure trips.

All this interest, passion and enthusiasm for the period is tinged with sadness on the anniversaries as so many men, both British and Zulu lost their lives and in the course of the subsequent short but decisive war, the Zulu Kingdom and way of life was destroyed. So I will spare a thought today for those brave souls from 137 years ago and share a few sombre photos from my 2014 trip to these famous sites.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Goodnight Blackstar

Mmm, been a strange, sad, sombre week for many. I am doing almost the same thing I was this time last week, sorting through some comic colouring related work on the laptop while listening to David Bowie's new album aka 'Blackstar'.

Like last week I will shortly be off to bed and up early in the morning playing chauffeur but unlike last week now I know that the man, the artist behind not just but the (cliche) soundtrack of my life has gone, it's a strange feeling. I posted my initial thoughts on the day the sad news broke, and the week since has been so strange surrounded by Bowie music everywhere, special programmes, tributes and it still has that unreal feeling to it.

I've been playing only his music this week - something I've always regularly done - and it's all so strong and vibrant, something that contemporary artists can't seem to match, which makes his loss more profound, but that legacy he's left behind means of course he'll never really leave us and I hope that all this attention will at least have introduced his music to a new generation who in turn will be inspired.

As for me, well Bowie's already touched my life in so many ways, I've always been hungry to learn, for new things, new places and have made several fairly big changes over the years, possibly influenced by his own restlessness. I've also though not quite been brave enough to follow through with everything, particularly my own comics work, despite having many great opportunities to do so. Has this been a fear of failure or a fear of success or something else? Who knows but as the great man once famously answered to that Proust question;

Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

A: Living in fear

All I have to do then is forget the fear and complete my own art which can't be all that difficult, after all I'll have Bowie's great music to keep my company. Goodnight.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

2015 Comic Reflections!

Accent UK's impressive two table spread in Copenhagen, June 2015

Plans are already well underway for this year's comic convention season so while the Accent UK tour bus receives it's annual service I can briefly reflect on what a cracking year 2015 was.

Accent UK attended 12 shows in all, a new record for us, throughout England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and our usual bi-annual visit to Denmark. A few of these were new to us including one of my personal highlights, a trip to Aberdeen (just North of my native Stonehaven!) where we and the organiser's were blown away by the Granite Cty's overwhelming response to it's first ever comic show, virtually selling out of the stock we brought.

Adam & Colin in Aberdeen's Extreme Indoor Climbing Centre!

In fact most of the shows we attended were top performers meaning we intend to return to them all, if possible, this year which makes for an even fuller schedule than normal. Disappointingly at the time of writing, we don't know if the successful (in terms of sales at least) shows in Blackpool and Warrington will return but this does free up space to accommodate new locations in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Oxford. While some of these are still to be confirmed - see full list on the right - it potentially makes 2016 even busier than 2015's record. Whether it proves to be as successful remains to be seen and no doubt depends on what new books we can release this year, more of which to be revealed later!

Accent UK's 2015 releases - did you catch them all?

We released 5 titles in 2015 which, alongside cracking reviews helped to propel us to our best ever sales performance. These included the ongoing WesterNoir series which is really building a solid audience keen for Josiah Black's latest exploits as creators Dave West and Gary Crutchley put him through the wringer with surprise, intrigue and danger around every corner!

WesterNoir spread at London MCM May 2015

We were also delighted to  publish a new book from the talented Martin Flink with The Troll which like his earlier Man of Glass was well received both in reviews and with a healthy advance sales order through Diamond distributors.

Martin Flink, Dave & Colin at The Troll's Copenhagen launch

It seems that finally after all these years the audiences are there for quality independent comics and graphic novels. Most cities we attend on the convention scene have at least one well stocked comic shop which helps promote the industry but people genuinely enjoying stepping out to local shows and making new discoveries as we, and many other indie creators, have seen our readerships grow.

It's a great time to be involved in the creation of comics and we are grateful for sticking it out these long years to now be able to enjoy this particular purple patch, hopefully this will continue into 2016 and beyond, if so we best get cracking on our new releases - watch this space!

In the meantime, here's a few snaps from some of our 2015 shows;

D C Thomson legendary artist Ian Kennedy & fan in Birmingham

Fredrik Stromberg hides Martin Flink!

The WesterNoir creative team in action in Copenhagen

Team Mathieson fly the flag in Glasgow

Colin and Steampunk Alan share a moment in London

Jemma, Scott & Dave at work in London
Spider-Man doing his thing in Aberdeen!

A happy Anna & Neil with their signed Troll in Leeds!
Jemma & Dave in Leeds

Erm, make your own caption here I think......

Monday, 11 January 2016

Bye, Bye Bowie

What words can convey what it means to lose a Hero? It's a cliche to say that someones music was the "soundtrack to my life" but in David Bowie's case it's as true for me as it is for so many others around the world who, like me are shocked by today's news.

It seems that I was always aware of his music but most likely it was Space Oddity and, truth be told, The Laughing Gnome that I first heard and made an impression on my very young mind. I do remember seeing the colourful Diamond Dogs gatefold LP sleeve on display in our small town's only record (and combined toyshop!) window, so that was in 1974, although I didn't 'get' that music particularly at the time, at only 9 years old I was too young.

For me it was 1980's wonderful Ashes to Ashes which finally allowed me to embrace Bowie, rushing out - as you did back then - to buy the album, Scary Monsters and Supercreeps on cassette which I played to death. This remains my favourite Bowie album, subsequently buying vinyl and CD versions which I still play, and famously also having a 'bubblegum' version which was a very brief craze in the early 1980's of popular records - sadly I no longer have this!

Once Scary Monsters had been absorbed, I was hungry and bought virtually his whole back catalogue including early Deram material with obscure but enjoyable tunes, such as Love You Till Tuesday, Come Buy My Toys, Little Boy Blue and the wonderful creepy Please Mr Gravedigger!

I followed his influences into Iggy, the Velvets and Lou Reed and championed his corner when most of my contemporaries didn't, moving on to the likes of Phil Collins, Rod Stewart etc when I proudly remained (and still do) on the edges of popular culture.

I was lucky enough to see Bowie live three times, following my own life moving through the UK, Serious Moonlight, Scotland 1983, Glass Spider, Wales 1987 and Heathen Tour, England 2002. I kept on with his music throughout with a slight lapse after Tin Machine and was delighted that recent releases, although more sporadic, were still quality and worthy of his talent. We even went to London for the excellent V&A retrospective a couple of years ago, which didn't disappoint.

I bought 'Blackstar' on Saturday so had only played it a couple of times before today's sad news, but it's lyrics, atmosphere and of course those preceding videos were obviously prophetic and it seems his parting gift to us all. I don't mind admitting that I cried when I heard the news but take comfort from the fact that I'm not alone and never will be as I still have his music to accompany my life, bye, bye Mr Bowie and thank you x