A few weeks ago, I had to go into hospital. Its something I’ve got used to over the past few years. I’ve a cardiac condition that, on occasions, requires a wee jolt of electricity keep everything on the straight and narrow. Without it, my heart drifts out of its usual 4/4 time and tries its hand at jazz..
This time it was a little different. Everyone I saw was masked, and, as they dealt with me, politely asked if I had had a cough or a temperature, or if I’d felt unwell in the days leading up to that day.
All of them, from the para-medics who assessed me at home and put me into the ambulance, through to the A&E nurses and the staff in the cardiac ward: they all had something new to think about. Something they had to protect themselves and the other patients in their care from, Covid-19.
But other than the extra questions they asked, they were the same as on each of the other occasions I’ve needed them. Efficient, skilled, and more than anything else compassionate and caring.
I was home in a matter of hours. None the worse for my adventure, but worried that I might have been exposed to the virus. And it struck me, the NHS staff who cared for me face that every day. They risk their health and indeed their lives, to look after other people and they do it in the face of an illness that they have no effective treatment for. I needed to do something, however small, to acknowledge and thank them and from there the idea for Splank! digital was born.
I edit Sector 13, a non-profit 2000AD fanzine. With cons cancelled and my need to ‘shield’ because of my condition, we’d suspended sales on our most recent issue. A minor issue for us, but for many creators, Cons serve as a huge portion of their income and the lockdown was having a significant effect.
I came up with the idea of combining the promotion of some of those creators with an appeal for an NHS charity and the Splank! Annual 2020 was born.
At more than 150 pages, it’s intended to evoke the hardbacked Christmas annuals we used to get as presents. Mixing genres and styles and in this case combining brand new material with the full contents of my original 2018, Splank! comic, and previously published stories donated by small press creators.
With contributions from Nigel Parkinson, Leslie Stannage and Gary Whitlock from the Beano, plus Joe Matthews and Dave Windett from almost every comic you may have read as a kid of recent years, and Michael Carroll from 2000AD, there is a good smattering of top-class professional work.
Marc Jackson, Steve Turner and Colin Mathieson represent the cream of small-press publishing in the UK while John Robbins, John Farrelly (who provided the cover) and the enigmatic and brilliant Stuart John McCune show that the Island of Ireland is right up there in terms of talent.
Artists from the Sector 13 fanzine are well represented, from the dynamic colour work of Scott Twells, the gentle charm of Cat Byrne to the brilliance of the two Joseph’s (McCafferty and Parangue), neither of whom know just how good they are.
But I hope they and all the other contributors with excuse me if I pick out a couple of creators for special mention. First, we have Keith McVeigh, a good friend, a musician, and a philosophy teacher. He’d never written a comic strip before, but his “Hugo Ball, Dada Detective” as brought to life by Joe Matthews is a real highlight for me and a thrill to publish.
Then we have Steve MacManus, 2000AD editor during the comics’ golden age. Steve has written a brilliant, short text story, in exactly the style that might have been seen in an old Battle or Valiant Annual. The addition of Joseph McCafferty’s illustrations add something special and it’s turned out even better than I’d dared hope.
The rest of the contributors are a mixture of family, friends, and artists I admire. All have given their time and their talent to make Splank! Annual 2020 possible. I hope you will download, read and enjoy the book, and look at the advertisements in the back and on the web-page and consider buying comics, prints or commissions from these creators and help support those at the sharp end of the British and Irish comics scene.
The Splank! annual is available as a digital download from GetMyComics, in either PDF or .cbr format. You can find more details of the comic and the various contributors on the web-page shared by Sector 13, Splank! and my own Cthulhu Kids comic and, most importantly, you can access the JustGiving page for Splank! Annual 2020, here.
Please give generously, and if any creators are interested, I’m beginning to think we might need a “Splank! Action Special” later in the year for sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories!
Peter Duncan is the editor of Sector 13 and Splank! and the co-creator of the Cthulhu Kids with artist Andrew Pawley. He is also a regular contributor to DowntheTubes.