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In Review: Drawing Breath/Argh! by Dicky Howett and Tim Quinn

Promotional Art for Tim Quinn's Biography

By Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett
Publisher: MIWK Publishing
Out: Now

The Book: Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett’s work will be known to comic readers everywhere, especially fans of Doctor Who – their strip “Doctor Who?” (also collected by MIWK, reviewed here) featured in Doctor Who Magazine for over a decade.

But as this “flip book” formatted book reveals (buy Tim’s biography, Argh!, you get Dicky’s, Drawing Breath, free and vice versa), he and Dicky didn’t just contribute to Doctor Who Magazine, they also provided comic strips for a number of Marvel, DC Thomson and IPC comics, developing a unique and edgy style as they went on, often upsetting editors along the way with with their refusal to allow good taste to get in the way of a good joke.

Before and after this decade-long partnership, Tim Quinn has had a colourful life, starting out early as a clown and going on to be a stage manager, editor, publisher, manager, director and producer as well as helping to launch Marvel in the UK during the 1980s.

Tim’s memoir is a cautionary tale of dealing with corporate mentality in a creative industry, facing opposition from marketing departments, editors and bosses generally. “We need to be careful here…” being a phrase often repeated.

Prior to this collaboration, Dicky Howett worked at the BBC and Lime Grove in various roles as well as being a freelance cartoonist for numerous daily newspapers and periodicals. He continued with cartooning for as long as he could, but with the industry changing and the need for spot cartoons diminishing he began a new career and company.

Golden Age TV Recreations specialises in leasing antique film and video camera and studio equipment to modern film and television productions ranging from Hollywood productions such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich, to television productions including Call the Midiwfe, The Hour, Inside No.9 and, returning to his Doctor Whoroots, with An Adventure in Space and Time for the series’ 50th Anniversary in 2013.

The Review: As you weigh up whether to spend your hard-earned cash on this book, you could perhaps find yourself asking: “Are Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett famous enough to justify their own autobiographies?” The answer, I suspect, is maybe, maybe not. But perhaps a more pertinent question would be: “Are Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett interesting enough to justify their own autobiographies?”

These two creators, working in many varied fields of endeavour, have lived more interesting lives than most, I suspect. Ask any comic artist or writer how he or she got into the industry and the answer is usually along the lines of “I loved reading comics when I was younger and later I started pitching a few ideas…” But here we have two men with a much more fascinating tale to tell.

Doctor Who? Doctor Who Magazine Issue 144

If you’re anything like me, you probably associate Tim and Dicky predominantly with their hilarious “Doctor Who?” comic strip from Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Magazine. But that is only the tip of a very large iceberg. Both have done a hell of a lot during their careers. But how did it all start?

Dicky’s story begins in bomb-ravaged London, his family narrowly avoiding destruction at the hands of the Nazis when a V2 rocket hits the street where they live in 1945. Jumping forward to the 1950s and, like so many of his generation, early influences included Dan Dare, Journey Into Space and the terrifying Quatermass. It all sounds like a typical 1950s childhood. All that’s missing is the traditional scene of the Howett family sat around a flickering TV screen watching the Coronation. In fact, they missed this historic event because they were out for the day doing something else… but you’ll have to read the book to find out what.

Drawing Breath by Dicky HowettIt’s clear that both television and comics were an important part of Dicky’s formative years. Getting a job at the BBC in the 1960s, he bumped into a Dalek and got to observe the rehearsals and recording of some of Hartnell’s Doctor Who episodes. He even appeared on Juke Box Jury!

Understandably, it’s Dicky’s work with Tim Quinn and, in particular, their work at Marvel UK that will be of most interest to many readers. Dicky recalls how they appeared on the BBC’s Swap Shop with Noel Edmonds and were starstruck by meeting Matthew Waterhouse (fair enough, I suppose).

Dicky’s pride in his “Doctor Who?” work really comes across (and it was great to see their return, for one issue only, in Doctor Who Magazine Issue 500). But it wasn’t just the Marvel UK team who he enjoyed working with. “Top Shelf” magazine editors were apparently very supportive and paid very well! (I must stress that Dicky provided cartoons and not photographs for said publications…).

“Doctor Who?”came to an end around about the time Marvel UK was sold to Panini but Dicky is adamant that the pair had not run out of ideas and would have been happy to continue.

Bringing his section of the book up to date, Dicky tells us that he has an extensive collection of television cameras which he lends to TV productions such as We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story. He also recalls nearly putting actor Brian Cox in hospital during filming of Doctor Who docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time! (the book includes, incidentally, some lovely behind the scenes shots from this production).

Argh! by Tim QuinnAnd so to Tim’s offering. His was another comics-dominated childhood with The Beano, Lion, Valiant and Buster on his reading list. He was also a fan of Gerry Anderson’s early output and fell in love with Lady Penelope! The young Tim won a Blue Peter badge and loved 1960s detective shows such as The Avengers, Danger Man and The Prisoner – the lucky so and so even got a summer job at Portmeirion (the famous Welsh location of the latter show).

Tim spoke at last year’s Lancaster Comics Day and had the audience enthralled when he recalled his early days working as a clown – and there’s plenty of good stuff about his circus days in Argh! The book also takes a poignant turn as Tim recalls being lonely in the boarding house he was living in and mentions that he even caught fleas! (Don’t worry, he doesn’t have them now).

There’s more fascinating reading as he recounts working at the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds (there’s a naked Barbara Windsor anecdote folks!) and writing scripts for Jimmy Cricket and Little and Large. Then it’s on to working for DC Thomson, followed by teaming up with Dicky at IPC.

Later stories include working with Gyles Brandreth on Sherlock Holmes comic adaptations, the tale of Jane Asher and the Spider-Man cake and going to visit Queen’s Brian May, with whom Tim shared a more than passing resemblance!

Tim and Dicky both have a very readable, easy-going prose style and at no point does their writing became stale or dis-interesting. I would say buy this book if you like Doctor Who or comics or, frankly, just enjoy reading about two guys who have lead a fascinating life… The ‘flip-over’ format is great by the way!

• Tim Quinn will be at Lancaster Comics Day on Sunday 5th June, where copies of Argh/Drawing Breath should be on sale, as long as the couriers come good

• Dicky Howett’s Drawing Breath is fully illustrated and comes with a free copy of Argh! by Tim Quinn from MIWK Publishing

• Tim Quinn’s Argh! is fully illustrated and comes with a free copy of Drawing Breath by Dicky Howett

Ian Wheeler

Ian Wheeler View All

Former Co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Publisher and Editor of comics-related fanzines. Contributor to books on Doctor Who from Virgin and Miwk Publishing. Contributor to cult TV fanzines and periodicals.

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