The Dundee Comics Day, organised by and held at the University of Dundee, has been running annually under one name or another since 2008 with the academic conference with the non-academic name of Biff! Bam!! Crikey!!! preceding it in 2007, and has produced various spin-offs along the way including the Beano 70th anniversary event, Dandy Day and this year’s Easter Expo. Dr Chris Murray, who runs the University’s MLitt in Comic Studies, has been the guiding force behind comics events at Dundee Uni for all that time and is now ably helped by Duncan of Jordanston College of Art and Design lecturer Phillip Vaughan.
Each Comics Day has an overarching theme and in this year of the 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who TV series that was science fiction under the title of Starblazers. Virtually every guest had a connection to space opera comics, from Dan Dare to Star Wars, 2000AD to Starblazer itself, plus many had worked on Doctor Who comic strips for either Marvel UK/Panini in Britain or IDW in the USA.
The ‘Day’ now takes place on both the Saturday and Sunday with the Saturday events in the Dundee Contemporary Arts venue close to the university. This year this consisted of an informal and free 2 hour drop-in art workshop for children on the subject of Doctor Who and its villains with the children being inspired by artists Simon Fraser (above) and Dan McDaid both of whom have Doctor Who comics strips to their credit.
The drop-in workshop proved to be a meeting point for those guests who had already arrived for the main event on Sunday including Steve Parkhouse (above left) who was there with his wife Annie and Sydney Jordan (above right). As with previous Dundee events the atmosphere was relaxed and sociable as the guests chatted to each other and to the fans who were present.
After the best efforts of the children had been awarded with copies of Print Media’s Mirabilis, the afternoon transferred into the DCA’s cinema where Andrew Wildman, who is one of the storyboard artists on the current Doctor Who TV series, gave an illustrated talk on his work for the series and took the audience through the creation of the scene from the episode The Bells Of Saint John. The scene in question had the Doctor and Clara race into the Tardis from a London street, around the Tardis console room, and back out into the airliner that is about to crash on Clara’s home and end up in its cockpit. Given that his audience ranged from adults with a good understanding of film-making to young children for whom the idea of the Tardis console room not being inside the wooden police box prop was a new concept, Andrew gave an interesting, informative and entertaining talk.
The main Comics Day was the Sunday with the talks and signing sessions plus some sales table located in the Tower Building of the university. The day was divided into three main sessions which roughly covered creators known for their work in the Sixties and Seventies who were interviewed on stage, those known for work in the Eighties and Nineties who talked to the audience while standing, and finally for those working in the new century who rounded up the day.
First up was artist John Ridgway (top left), perhaps best known for his long run of work on Doctor Who Magazine and the Doctor’s ‘penguin’ companion Frobisher, but whose work has also ranged from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to Dez Skinn’s Warrior, as well as Commando and it was current Commando editor Calum Laird (top right) who led the interview. John talked about how he, as a trained engineer, became a comic artist as well as his inspirations and what he had recently been working on.
Next up was artist Ian Kennedy (top right) who was interviewed by the university’s Phillip Vaughan (top left). Starting in DC Thomson in 1949 before going freelance in the mid Fifties, to put it quite simply Ian Kennedy is the most experienced British comic artist alive today and even now he continues to paint new covers for Commando despite being in his eighties. His credits range from original 1950s Eagle annuals to a long run on the new Eagle’s Dan Dare in the 1980s, from cowboy strips to football covers, from Blake’s 7 to Judge Dredd, as well as commercial work for the Royal Air Force and Scalextric, and he remains the master of Commando covers which he has been painting since 1971. It is rare for Ian to appear at comics events and it is the credit of the university organisers that they were able to persuade him not just to appear but to be interviewed on stage about his long career and then answer audience questions.
The final interview of the morning session was with artist Sydney Jordan (above left) who is best known for his long running daily strip about pilot and astronaut Jeff Hawke in the Daily Express. Sydney was accompanied by Bill Rudling, himself a graphic designer and artist, who runs the Jeff Hawke Fan Club with Sydney and who has, over the last ten years, been able to publish all 20 years of Jeff Hawke in the club magazine Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos with the full permission of Express Newspapers and who is now moving on to Sydney’s successor strip set further into the future, Lance McLaine. Like Ian Kennedy, Sydney is Dundonian born and bred but has not been back to the city in decades so this proved to be a chance to see how his old haunts have changed as well as talk about his career on both Jeff Hawke and Lance McLaine.
The guests then retired upstairs for a signing session during which they sketched and answered more questions. It was a remarkable opportunity for fans to talk to these guests given that the four artists in the photo above, Sydney, Andrew, Ian and John, have between them over 150 years experience of working on comics.
The afternoon session brought old friends and colleagues writer Simon Furman (top left) and artist Andrew Wildman (top right) back together to talk about Transformers, a title that they had worked on over the years both for UK and now US publishers. Their entertaining chat finally focused on the work they are currently doing for IDW’s Transformers: Regeneration One which takes them back to the original incarnation of the robots-in-disguise franchise that was abruptly curtailed by Marvel US in 1991.
Next up were writer Robbie Morrison (top left) and artist Simon Fraser (top right), the creators of 2000AD’s Nikolai Dante. Simon may now live in New York but both of these old friends are Scottish and they gave an animated and entertaining talk about their work on Dante over the years, as well as giving credit to the other main Dante artist John M Burns. Before taking questions they also took the time to mention some of their own creator owned projects, Robbie’s excellent new graphic novel with artist Jim Murray, Drowntown, and Simon’s Lilly MacKenzie that has appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine.
Finally in the middle session came artist Kev Hopgood whose robots came in the shapes of dinosaurs rather than vehicles when he worked on Zoids for Marvel UK. Kev took the audience through his work on 2000AD and Doctor Who Magazine as well as mentioning Warhammer and Aces Weekly before he talked about his three-year run on Marvel US’ Iron Man comic when he was the artistic creator of War Machine who has since appeared in the Iron Man movies.
After the final signing session of the day came artist Tanya Roberts who had been selling her work in the university’s reception area during the day along with manga artist Yishan Li. Tanya’s comics work has been with a selection of big name franchises including Star Wars: Clone Wars and Toy Story but, given that these are aimed at a junior readership and few in the audience would be familiar with the actual comic strips, she chose to talk about how she went about creating her work including her own title, Forgotten Muse, and so effectively gave the audience a quick workshop on laying out a comics page.
Final guest of the day was writer and artist Montynero (top right) who talked about Death Sentence, the series that he writes and draws the covers for that is illustrated by artist Mike Dowling. Montynero was at the Dundee Comics Day several years back before Death Sentence had been picked up by CLiNT/Titan and so this was an opportunity for Phillip Vaughan (top left) to talk through how what was then a self-published, creator-owned title had gone on to be published firstly in an (almost) regular magazine and now in a regular comic.
The day ended with John Ferguson, the writer of the new Scottish superhero graphic novel Saltire, praising the university for the help it had given him in getting his idea off the ground and published while the Dundee Comics Prize for creating a science-fiction comic strip went to Dave Charlton for Winston, with Paul Rainey and Robert Wells with Connected, John Munro with Space Adventure, and Rossi Gifford with Collision being the runners-up. All these strips will be featured in the forthcoming UniVerse comic Tales Of The Universe! A final ’round table’ discussion brought back seven of the guests for a general chat about science fiction and the future as shown below.
After Grant Morrison and his various artists appeared last year, it was perhaps unsurprising that the turnout for this year’s Dundee Comics Day was less than the last. However the diversity of the guests this year was so much better and the format whereby those guests that were happy to simply stand and talk with a microphone were allowed to, while those who preferred to be guided by an interviewer were also catered for, proved to be a happy medium. While I would have happily paid my money to hear either Ian Kennedy or Sydney Jordan talk, to have all the rest of the guests was a bonus, yet perhaps the best thing about the Dundee Comics Day is that it remains a relatively small and relaxed affair that allows for personal interaction between the guests and the audience.