Monday, 28 January 2019

IRONIC - The Story of a Comic Strip

Editor, Peter Duncan and first time writer James McBride join to tell the story of the broad collaboration that led to one of the key stories from the fourth Issue of the Sector 13 Fanzine. 

Sector 13 issue four was, possibly, the most satisfying of all of the issues we’ve put out.  One of the reasons being that we had a couple of stories which totally epitomised the aims we had talked about for the magazine when we first set it up.

From the beginning Sector 13 has been about getting as many members of the Belfast 2000AD fan-community involved as possible.  Our photo-stories were a way to feature the cosplayers in the group and we have made great efforts to feature local writers and artists in each of our zines.

In issue four we had two stories by writers who had never even attempted to write comics before, this is how one of them came about….

Judge James McBride
Ironic was the first story I’d written since my school days over 30 years ago. I’ve always been more of a doodler than a writer, more interested in trying to improve my attempts at drawing 2000AD characters than creating stories for them.

At one of our Sector House 13 meet ups we were discussing future plans for our fanzine, particularly future scheduling, artists and the ongoing need for writers to submit new stories. A few ideas were thrown around, what would work and what we wanted to avoid. We all agreed we needed more Mega City-1 stories based on our own original characters.

I’d recently began re-reading 2000AD from Prog 1, mostly finding the stories very different to how I had imagined them as a 9-year-old boy. Where I once had read simple action stories set in a sci-fi world, I now read complicated characters whose choices and actions affected not only those around them but sometimes entire worlds. Two stories that stood out were Flesh, where future man, desperate to satisfy his need for meat travels through time to harvest dinosaur flesh. The other was Judge Dredd, in particular the role of the Judges in the madness of Mega City – 1 and the Cursed Earth outside its walls. I wondered what the affects would be if Flesh was set in the Dreddverse and if there was a way to use it in the fanzine.

A few days later a song from one of my favourite albums came on the radio, Ironic by Alanis Morrisette. I’d always found the lyrics poignant and more than a little menacing in parts and I began to think of a twist where dinosaur flesh was killing those who ate it, the thing that people wanted so badly was killing them! I considered a few scenarios but felt them too big, too complicated and the time travel aspect didn’t fit into the reality-based world of the 2012 Dredd movie that the Mega City-1 of our fanzines is set in. Then I realised I didn’t need time travel, or even dinosaurs for that matter, I had the horrors of the Cursed Earth to deliver my twist.

At that point the basic plot came together quite quickly, though it took several rewrites and small changes to details to make sure the ending made sense and had the desired impact. I wrote the story out, just like a school essay, unaware of how to structure a script for a comic book formatted story. Then I closed my jotter and put it in a drawer happy that I had wrote something, but it was a silly story and certainly not something anyone else would be interested in.

With great hesitation about a week later I mentioned it to my wife that I had written a story. She asked to read it, but I refused, feeling embarrassed but I eventually caved and showed her the manuscript. Thankfully she loved it, she checked the spelling and put it into print so we could see how it felt to read it in black and white. We then gave it to our sons to read and a positive reaction from a couple of teenage boys gave me the courage to send it to Peter and Laurence.

Actually pressing the send button on the laptop was still a very difficult thing to do though. I was expecting a polite reply at best, saying they couldn’t use the story.

Getting a story from James was a surprise, he’d written an entry for the Blog about his childhood memories of Starlord and 2000AD, but we’d had no inkling that he was working on anything else. 

Cover of the first issue of Shock Illustrated
The nature of the tale also came as something of a surprise, it was subtle, touching and carried a huge emotional load with it.   I was blown away by it, something really different for us.  Initially we were looking at publishing it on this Blog.  We’d already decided not to use straight prose stories in Sector 13 and this was a prose story.   I shared it with the rest of the editorial team, Simon McKnight and Laurence McKenna, and all three of us loved it.

As editor I did a little bit of work on the text, making some minor changes to language and structure but leaving the vast majority of James’ original in place.  As I worked at it and discussed it with Laurence and Simon, It became clear that we all felt it was important that we found a way to use it in the zine.  To get it into print. 

Part of that feeling was because it was James’ story.    We knew that he didn’t think of himself as a writer and we understood how difficult it had been for him to show his work to us.  Not only was this exactly what we wanted Sector 13 to be about, but this was James, our mate, and one of the key people holding the Sector House 13 group together.  Mainly though, it was just a great story.

A example of the Picto-Fiction style

I’ve been reading comics for a very long time and stuck somewhere in the back of my mind was a memory of reading about ‘Pictofiction’ magazines*.  Pictofiction was an attempt by EC comics to avoid the restrictions of the 1950’s Comics Code by publishing magazines that mixed prose with illustrations.  A sort of half-way house between comics and illustrated fiction.   They had only lasted a few issues and had been a failure but there was something there.

At an editorial meeting (we go to the Parlour Bar most Wednesdays) Laurence and I agreed that this seemed like exactly the format that would work for ‘Ironic’ and decided to go ahead.  We were going to use a format for this story not used widely since those very few issues of Crime Illustrated, Shock Illustrated and Terror Illustrated in 1955.

The next step was to turn the prose into a script.  I re-read the story, split it into sections and wrote some very detailed panel descriptions for each illustration.  I took out some descriptive sections of the prose, knowing that the pictures would tell the tale better than the words.  

We agreed the script with James and went in search of an artist.

We all agreed that Ironic needed the right artist to portray the necessary emotion, especially in the final few panels.  Joseph McCafferty had drawn a strip featuring me and the other Sector House 13 cosplayers that was absolutely amazing. He was the artist I wanted to illustrate Ironic

Laurence and I were familiar with Joseph’s strip but I’ll freely admit that I had reservations.   It was beautifully done, but it was short and was very ‘modern’ in style, not at all what we had in mind.

He’d also done some work for me which will be part of a second issue of Splank! at some stage.  But the styles he had worked in were, if I’m honest, not at all what I had envisaged for this story. 

Shortly afterwards we met Joseph at Omagh Comic Festival and more importantly saw his portfolio.  There was so much more to his work than we’d seen in that initial strip.  His portfolio contained amazing artwork and we knew instantly that he was the perfect artist for this job.  

With the script in place and artist agreed we were ready to proceed. I happily left the process in the
One of the panels which had to be cut slightly for publication.
capable hands of the fanzine editorial team as they set about turning issue 4 into a reality.

I had to pinch myself when the first of Joseph’s images arrived, it was surreal seeing my story come to life.  Joseph has done a fantastic job of making my characters real, sharing their emotions and capturing the perfect balance between our old-fashioned story and its futuristic location.

He surpassed my highest hopes.

An example of the attention to detail in Jospeh's work - some of the books on sale in the Bookshop!
With the illustrations completed we started to put the pages together.  This wasn’t just as easy as we had thought it would be.  Joseph’s illustrations were incredibly detailed but in some cases were simply too big to fit easily into the page design we’d first envisaged.  We had some awful decisions to make, cutting out sections of the artwork to make things fit together as best we could.  Laurence and I worked hard to lay out the strip in the most effective way possible, bringing James in on all of the big decisions. 

Joseph's work with the 'aged paper' look.
I added some text, to better link the story with the ongoing tale of the Sector 13 Judges, to set up some future plots and to balance the ratio of words with images.  Laurence found some excellent backgrounds to ‘age’ the pages and I fought with Photoshop to get a look that we were all happy with.  After two days of back and forth, of trial and error, Ironic was finished and we were ready to send Sector 13 Issue four to the printer.  I remember my last look through the pages as we’d laid them out.  That final image where the eyes of our lead character finally look out at the reader.  ‘We’ve got this right’, I thought. 

With all the work I’d almost forgotten just how brilliant that final image was.

Then we let James see the file, got Debbie to make sure we had not made any more stupid mistakes, and finally sent the files to the printer. 

A week later I was handing the paper copy of Sector 13 to James at our launch at the Parlour Bar in Belfast.

I struggle to express my joy and delight with the finished story. Not only for myself but for Joseph, Peter and Laurence in making something that we are all so proud of. Without their help, encouragement, hard work and huge talents, Ironic would still be sitting in drawer unread.

And that just about sums up the purpose of Sector 13.  Everyone involved loves 2000 AD, we want to make the best zine we can and we want to encourage as many people as possible to take the bull by the horns and do something creative.    

Whether it’s that story you’ve thought of for years or the sketchbook you’ve been doodling in get your script to us, send that artwork in or get photographs taken in your cosplay costume.     The worst that can happen is that we say we can’t use it.    We’ll try to be as constructive as possible with our comments. 

What is the best that can happen?  Ask James was it worth taking the risk to bite the bullet and let us see his story, I think you can guess what his answer will be.

Details of our submissions guidelines can be found here, on the web-page we share with editor Peter Duncan's other comics, Splank! and Cthulhu Kids.  We really do look forward to hearing from you.

Sector 13 Submission Guidelines 

Copies of Issue 4 are available for £5 plus P&P (Total £7 in UK).  Payment by Paypal to  Details of international charges and back issues can be found at the web-site.  Sector 13 Back Issues

*No, I’m not quite old enough to remember EC comics first time round.  I did however have reprints of the Pictofiction mags in my collection.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Carlos Ezquerra (12/11/1947 - 01/10/2018)

Laurence McKenna sums up the feeling of the Sector House 13 group on the death of Carlos Ezquerra in a piece taken from our Facebook page.

So we see the passing of a Titan of the World of Comicdom: The mighty Carlos Ezquerra.

Where to begin in attempting to encapsulate the incredibly creative life of this artist.

His career began in Spain where he worked on many Spanish titles. He then made the leap to British comics in the early 1970's working on various titles.

In 1974 he really came to the fore with his work on Battle Picture Weekly's 'The Ratpack' and following on from this to 'Major Easy'.

In 1977 Carlos set out and defined the character Judge Dredd for 2000AD and is seen as the main influence on this strip over forty years. The list is long: The Apocalypse War, Necropolis, Wilderlands, The Pit, Origins and Tour of Duty are amongst his standouts.

If this were not enough, in tandem with Dredd, Carlos set out the character Johnny Alpha and the harsh world of Strontium Dog. Firstly in the seminal publication StarLord and then in 2000AD. 

Again the list of stories is almost limitless, but his work on 'Portrait of a Mutant' lives long in the readers memory.

I have set out but a fraction of Carlos Ezquerra's talent and it would require many more pages to give the reader the totality.

Many of our group members have met with Carlos, were charmed by his soft spoken, kindly demeanour and staggered by the works he personally crafted for them.

Personally, I grew up reading Carlos Ezquerra from a young age and his work was a constant in my life. It shaped me in a good way and in this there can be no greater accolade.
The photo at the top of this page shows Carlos and his life long co-creator John Wagner with our group's banner last year. I think you will all agree that this image serves as a warm and touching testament to what Carlos meant to us here at Sector House 13.

Other art comes from sketches and commissions Carlos produced for members of our group.  Always highly prized by the owners, even more so now.

It remains for us all to extend our condolences and good thoughts to all of the Ezquerra family.

De Cansa en Paz Amigo.

Belfast Sector 13.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Splank! said the Cthulhu Kids Part 1

Imagine a crossover comic.  You take the cosmic horror of the Lovecraft Mythos, with its secret cults worshiping giant inhuman and uncaring gods and you mix them with, Billy Bunter, The Bash Street Kids and (really checking how old our readers are) Whacko!.

That's the premise of The Cthulhu Kids, a new comic from Sector 13 editor Peter Duncan and Galaxafreaks artist Andrew Pawley which is currently the subject of a Kickstarter Campaign that still has 16 days to run.

"It seemed obvious", Peter said,  "the Great Old Ones must have had kids and we guessed they wouldn't be all that well behaved.  So it seems likely they'd be packed of to something very similar to an English Public School where they would be kept nice and quiet and out of the way.  And that's what Cthulhu Kids is all about".

Featuring the cosmic after effects of inter-college sports and the devastating impact of a school performance of "The King in Yellow', Cthulhu Kids has been a labour of love for both creators.  Combining their twin obsessions of the Cthulhu Mythos and the british humour comics they read as kids they've come up with something that is pretty weird and really funny.

The Kickstarter, run expertly by Andrew Pawley, a veteran of many campaigns for his own Galaxafreaks comics,  has rewards that go from £2 up to £499 depending on whether you just want a pdf of the final comic or fancy appearing in the comic as the President of the United Cults of Pangea.  

There are some great limited offers, including posters, prints and membership of Kid Cthulhu's Mythos Madness Club.  There are very limited edition 3d printed, hand-painted models of the star of the show, Kid Cthulhu himself and the chance to get Andrew to draw a personalised Cthulhu Kids Sketch Cover.

The comic originated from an offer on one of Andrew's previous Kickstarter Campaigns.  Peter paid to have a two page Cthulhu Kids comic strip done for another of his projects.  Andrew saw that there was a lot more to be done with the kids and so the partnership was born.   

Mr President, but for how long?
The guys have had a blast working on this and even if it had kept Peter from working on Sector 13 for a while, we think its a great project.   

Check it out at the Kickstarter page and throw a few quid at them.  You won't regret it.

For more information look at Peter's web-site for details of the Cthulhu Kids and the other comics projects he's involved with.  And while you are at it, look at Andrew's previous comics on his Galaxafreaks web-page.   They're something just a little different!

Cthulhu Kids Kickstarter       

Box of Rain Mag, Peter Duncan's Web-Page 

Andrew Pawley's Galaxafreaks Comics

Monday, 16 April 2018

Kickstarter Update

Peter Duncan looks at three Kickstarter Campaign's by Friends of Sector House 13.

Here at the Sector House 13 Blog we're always keen to promote comics that our members and friends are involved with.  On checking the Kickstarter web-site today I quickly found three campaigns that involve good friends of the group.


Firstly we have a collection of two stories by one of the most talented writer/artists on the self-publishing scene.  Stuart John McCune produces comics which are elegant, deep and totally satisfying to read.  His books have layers of meaning and complexity that reward careful examination and allows them to be read over and over.  His Human Beings ongoing title has just reached its fifth issue and a collection is, thankfully, available for those who have missed it.

But Stuart also has a new Kickstarter, for the first of what will, I hope be an ongojng series of books long out of print.   This time he's looking back at a one-off comic from a few years ago, Cold Colony, combined with a brand new sequel, Cold Colony 2.

The first book, an atmospheric science fiction mystery, which Stuart describes (completely accurately) as having a touch of the EC's to it, is a fantastic read.  The claustrphobia of life in a harsh deadly environment is captured superbly in Stuart's stylish and graceful artwork.  His hero, Tina K├Ąpplinger is enigmatic and his story has the same grit and depth of the very best scifi movies of the eighties.  

This was one of the books which cemented my interest in self-published comics, if there were things as good as this out there, what else did I need?

Stuart says the second story has a similar feel, but is more in tune with his recent, more sophisticated (my word) work on Human Beings.   Certainly the art samples I have seen look very special and personally I can hardly wait to read Cold Colony 2.  I just love that Space Ship design!

Available in print and pdf format and with some great extras you can find the Kickstarter Campaign here and can check out Stuart's other comics on Big Cartel Here.  Stuart's comics blew me away when I first started reading them a few years back.   If anything I think they are getting better and better.

Stuart's Millicent Barnes' Comics Tumblr page


Ryan Brown cover to issue 2
Twilight Hotel is a horror comic series based on a screen-play by writer Ra-X.  Described as a love letter to "The Twilight Zone" and "Tales from the Crypt" this collection of blood-soaked morality tales is aimed at the hard-core horror fan.

Set in a Hotel, the stories in issue one, the only one I've had a chance to read, are set in and around the hotel at various times in its history.  They begin with an introduction to our host, a chain-smoking maintenance man with a good head for a story.  

More importantly from a Sector 13 perspective is the array of great cover artists the team have lined up.  Our very good friend, Ryan Brown has supplied a fantastic cover and some horrific prints to the impressive array of add-ons available to pledgers.  

While the artist on the Nemesis the Warlock pin-up from issue two of Sector 13, Adam Brown, has an original oil painting up for grabs as well as supplying a cover to one issue of the series..  

This is a well put together Kickstarter, the comics look highly impressive and the array of talent involved is excellent.  

With pledges available from $3.00 (if you can get the last of the limited early-bird options) to  $4,000 there is something for every horror fan.  The ability to buy anything from a single issue to a slip-cased collection of all four books in the series is a nice touch, so go along and have a look and support our friends Ryan and Adam.

Adam Brown print available through Twilight Hotel Kickstarter

Kickstarter Campaign
Ryan Brown Website
Adam Brown Website


It's that man again - Ryan Brown cover to Beyond Doomsday collection
The final project we want to look at is so new it has not even made it to Kickstarter yet.   Beyond Doomsday is a Science Fiction, Horror and fantasy comic which owes a huge amount to the Warren comics of yesteryear, particularly the more 'adult' sci-fi of 1984 (later 1994 magazine)  and the early days of Heavy Metal magazine.   

There have been two Asylum Press issues, both dated 2016, and both with all of the stories written by Frank Forte and  concentrating on post-apocalyptic tales.  

Art is from a wide variety of artists each of whom has a very different style and all of the stories are well told and look pretty damn good.

For myself I was most taken with Silvester Song's work on "The Transaction" in the first issue and with Frank Forte's own art on "Battlefield X" in the same edition.  

Indeed I was slightly disappointed that Frank had not illustrated any of his own stories in the second issue and I wasn't hugely impressed at, Swamp Girl, one of the stories in issue 2.  

Frank Forte art from Battlefield X - excuse the truncated TCHOW!

But a hit rate of seven out of eight is pretty good for any anthology title and I think it shows that Frank's forte (do you see what I did there*) is, perhaps, sci-fi rather than fantasy.

It's interesting to see comics today which have something of the slightly irreverent feel of the Warren titles.  They were the magazines that any self-respecting adolescent boy hid away from his parents and there's a wee touch of that here too.
Silvester Song's Cover to Issue 1

I'd read both issues as they came out, and really enjoyed them but the reason they came to our attention at Sector House 13 now, is that, once again, our very good friend Ryan Brown has been sought out as the cover artist for a trade paperback collection of both issues to be solicited via Kickstarter in May this year.  

We'll keep an eye out and let you know when the Kickstarter becomes available.  Ryan's cover is fantastic and I'm sure we have a few guys reading this who will be interested.  

For more details, check out the Beyond Doomsday website and sign up for the Kickstarter newsletter.

Just a final word on our own zine Sector 13.  More completed artwork in for the tyhird issue and it just keeps getting better and better.    Some previews of that and other projects coming to fruition in May later in the week I think.

To keep fully up to date follow the Fanzine's Facebook page or even better join the Sector House 13 group.

* Huge apologies to Frank for that, i'm sure he has seen it thousands of times but I just couldn't resist.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Sector 13 Issue three at Enniskillen ComicsFest

We've been quiet here for a while.  Not much happening on the Sector House 13 blog.  The main reason is that we've all been hard at work on the third edition of our fanzine, Sector 13.   

To say that we're excited about this issue would be something of an understatement.  As well as the usual, and we believe, unique photo-story featuring our cosplayers, we've the return of the same creators from our previous issues and some new and very talented writers and artists this time round.  

Its hard to believe that it was a year ago that we launched Sector 13 at the Enniskillen Comicsfest.  That was a great event, especially as it celebrated the 40th Anniversary of 2000 AD with a lineup of guests that would have done any con proud.  It's at this years festival that we'll be launching issue three.

Enniskillen has been a very special type of comics con over the past two years.  A throwback to the old days when cons were, 'all about the comics', to borrow a phrase from the father of the Festival, Paul Trimble.  

This year Paul and his team are moving venue to St Macartins' Cathedral Hall, but the same concentration on comics is there and the guest list, as you can see, is a real treat for 2000 AD fans.   

You can keep track of new announcements on the Festivals Facebook page and I'm sure we'll be mentioning it a few times either here or on our own Facebook Page.

So all comics enthusiasts and especially the 2000 AD fans from all across Ireland and far beyond should mark Saturday 12th May, 10:30-6:00 in their diary and come along to what looks to be a really exciting event.  And while you are there say hello to the Sector 13 Crew.  We'll have a few surprises for you at our table.

Speaking of which, on checking the stock of issues one and two (we looked in the cardboard box we keep them in) we found we were almost down to single figures of each issue.  That sort of crept up on us, we've had steady sales over the past few months, a couple of issues a week in person or through our web-page, but that has built up and we are now down to the last few copies of each issue.

We're intending to reprint, with brand new covers, but if you want a copy of the original first prints, with the superb cosplay covers you'll need to get a move on.   You can buy them via paypal from the Box of Rain website run by Peter Duncan, £6.50 each or £11 (postage paid in the UK) for the pair while stocks last.

We'll be bringing whatever stock we have left to Enniskillen, but I'm guessing there won't be many of either of the first prints so get them while you can.   More from the blog very soon,  and maybe a preview of some of the strips we have coming for you in Sector 13 issue three.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Zarjaz 30

Dan Cornwell's impressive cover to Zarjaz 30

Just out is the thirtieth issue of Zarjaz, the 2000 AD fanzine from Futurequake Press.  Its a great achievement to produce 30 issues of a fanzine, especially one as consistently entertaining as this one.   Peeps and his pals should be very proud of this achievement.

It's an all Dreddworld issue this time round, with a good variation in stories and featuring some old favs and a few surprises.  It begins with an excellent cover from Dan Cornwell, who made his 2000 AD debut in Prog 2045 and was the artist on one of the best self-published series of the past couple of years, Rok of the Reds.  

L. Nicoletta art on Kevin McHugh's Devlin Waugh story

McAuliffe and Cassidy!
From there we have stories featuring Dredd, Hershey and Devlin Waugh and a great strip by McAuliffe and Cassidy that I'm not going to say too much about.   Except that it was nice to see the Dandy and Beano influences in there.   

The stories by Alan Holloway and Edward Whatley were stand-outs for me.  Dan Goodfellow's art over Alan's script was stylish and effective and moved a simple but profound story forward quickly and effectively.  

Edward Whatley's art job on his own script is the highlight of the issue, his splash page alone marks his script out as something special.
An old friend in Edward Whatley's strip.

Zarjaz 30 is a great issue, at 48 A5 pages in black and white it's available from their website here for £3.00 plus postage and packing.   And on behalf of those of us involved in the production of Sector 13, our own 2000AD fanzine can I say again how much we appreciate the help and support of  Dave and the guys in publishing our own zine.