I received a hyperlink dispatch this morning from downthetubes reader John Derek Pitt, who had only recently come across the excellent digital CGI Daleks comic saga, The Second Empire created by Chris Smith, aka MechMaster.
It’s been so long ago that I first came across what has mushroomed into a glorious 714-page not for profit fan-created strip that all trace of a plug appears to have been expunged from our site’s record banks… So, grateful for Derek’s message, let me redress that right now, because it’s great fun – not that, I suspect, I’ll need to convince many DTT readers who, I’m sure, found it some time ago.
A tale of all-out Dalek civil war that makes Tolstoy’s War and Peace look like a playground spat, “I have to admit that Second Empire happened pretty much by accident,” says Chris of the story’s origins, an accomplished digital and physical modeller whose interests extend well beyond Daleks to the likes of Japanese anime and Warhammer.
“One thing I was most certainly not planning on doing was creating an epic length graphic novel about a Dalek civil war…. Originally I was not even a massive Dalek fan.”
But positive (if, in the case of some non UK residents, bemused) reaction to his initial designs prompted him to continue his Dalek research, becoming an all-consuming passion that, it seems, took over his every waking hour. When he began back in 2007, he certainly didn’t expect it to afford the short break from CGI modelling Warhammer spaceships, he intended, among other things.
His passion for Skaro’s deadliest export was further fuelled by his discovery of the Project Dalek, a site dedicated to building model Daleks.
“The site quickly became one of my most frequently visited favourites as I delved ever deeper into the world of Dalek building,” he says.
“I posted some images of my CG Daleks in the relevant section of the forum, half expecting the serious, Dalek minded membership to be appalled by my treatment of a classic design but they were very well received, which further encouraged my desire to build more Dalek models.”
Rapidly discovering the sheer variety of Dalek types and the pepperpots rich history on TV, Chris then discovered the 1960s “The Daleks” comic strip from TV Century 21.
“The Dalek comic strip caught my attention, not just because it was (to me) a new take on the Daleks but also because a fellow CG modeller, Iain McLumpha, had used 3D graphics to create some new and original Dalek comics in the style of the original TV21 stories.
“Iain’s work inspired me to have a go myself, and as I had never done anything like that before I decided I would tell a simple story of a renegade Dalek general sparking a Dalek civil war, that I figured would run for 30 or 40 pages. Initially I only posted the pages on the Project Dalek Forums but by the time I reached page 36 it had become apparent that the comic was probably going to run for more than 50(!) pages and in the meantime my own website was sitting idle, so I decided to post the comic there too.
“As a newcomer to comic art I had completely underestimated how long it would take to tell my ‘simple’ story in that format, he first admitted back in 2012. “Second Empire has become the biggest, most sustained CG project I have ever worked on and despite the years I have spent on it I am having just as much fun doing it now as I was when I first started.”
The popularity of Second Empire is such that it now has a massive fan base and its own dedicated page on TV Tropes, detailing almost every in-joke, nuance and all the main characters. It’s also proven the basis for a series of fan-created animations created by Andrew Wagstaff, who asked for permission to animate the comic.
“As I knew nothing about animation, already had my hands full with the ongoing comic and was not possesive of my models I was happy to send the Second Empire scene files to Andy and let him breathe life into them.
“Aided by a group of Second Empire fans who volunteered to do voices, assist with the aniamtion and create a musical soundtrack Andy has been steadily adding a fourth dimension to my 3D artwork and posting the results on YouTube.”
Like Derek Pitt, I think that Chris deserves further recognition (and praise!) for this mammoth piece of work. So why not head over to his site and check out the story?
• There’s more on the origins of Second Empire here on the strip web site, along with links to the individual animated episodes
• In the spirit of the manner it was first created, Chris has also posted designs for this not for profit Dalek project here on his own web site