Rediscovering “The Unholy Grail”, a lost film project featuring concept art by Mick McMahon

Back in March 2020, downthetubes reader David Rees got in touch to tell me about his research into a lost Mick McMahon film project, The Unholy Grail, produced by Animation City, run by Phil Austin and Derek Hayes, which I fully intended to feature here.

Concept art for The Unholy Grail by Mick McMahon, an unmade feature film from Animation City
Concept art for The Unholy Grail by Mick McMahon, an unmade feature film from Animation City

Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, real world events of the time proved a bit of a distraction, and his email and other messages got buried among an avalanche of work-related communications as the whole world scrambled to adjust to the realities of the global pandemic.

But, having just unearthed his correspondence, better late than never, hey? So let’s hand over to David, to relate how his diligent researches uncovered a fascinating tale of roads not traveled by one of 2000AD’s finest…

“In 2012, I noticed that the blurb on Ian Gibson in the introduction to Titan Books Robo-Hunter collections revealed that, in 1981, he was working on an animated science fiction film with Mick McMahon, which was still in pre-production.

“Having no clue what this mysterious project might have been, I wrote to Mick and Ian and asked them about it. Both were very helpful, providing information and images from a great project-that-never-was.

“Asking Mick about it, he replied: “This was to have been an animated film from Animation City, a story to be set in North London in the near future that would have featured aliens, Merlin and Morgana, plus ancient Romans.”

One of the characters is Marcus Flavius, a Roman Tribune of Britain, who lives for 2000 years in pursuit of the power of the Holy Grail.

“Mick said that he had some poor-quality copies of some character designs but no copies of any colour work, but Ian luckily still had a promo booklet put together for the project. Ian very kindly jumped through various technical hoops to deal with some scanning, and I managed to cobble together some images from the aborted project.

Mick McMahon design for Marcus Flavius, Roman Tribune of Britain, who lives for 2000 years in pursuit of the power of the Holy Grail
Mick McMahon design for Marcus Flavius, Roman Tribune of Britain, who lives for 2000 years in pursuit of the power of the Holy Grail

“‘My input to the project was only in the form of character designs in pencil,’ Ian told me. ‘Whereas Mike got to do some spectacular colour pieces for them. I guess they knew where the talent lay! They are beautiful. Mike at his best!”

“Mick subsequently posted about the project on his now sadly defunct blog [archived here on Wayback- John].

Marcus (on left) urges his men forward to seize the Holy Grail from Merlin. As the magician keeps them at bay with magical, stinging motes of light, he works to send the cup 2000 years into the future…
Marcus (on left) urges his men forward to seize the Holy Grail from Merlin. As the magician keeps them at bay with magical, stinging motes of light, he works to send the cup 2000 years into the future…

‘Many years ago, around 1981/82 I think, and initially with Ian Gibson, I did some concept work for Phil Austin and Derek Hayes, collectively known as Animation City,’ he outlined. “Some pretty clunky drawing, especially in the colour pieces, but I remember having a lot of fun doing it.

‘Set both in ancient Britain and the near future, it would have made a wonderful animated film. But, as ever, funding…’

Marcus waits out the years in the underground cavern where Merlin sent the Holy Grail into the future. Kept alive by its dark alternative, the cup of Judas, he takes out his rage and frustration on his robotic servants
Marcus waits out the years in the underground cavern where Merlin sent the Holy Grail into the future. Kept alive by its dark alternative, the cup of Judas, he takes out his rage and frustration on his robotic servants

“I also got in touch with Derek Hayes,” David continued, “the surviving half of the Animation City outfit, and pointed him at Mick’s blog post. Derek then also put together a blog post about the Unholy Grail project, with some fascinating insights into how the story might have panned out, and a few more glorious pieces of concept art.”

Derek’s blog posts here and here on his own site reveal much more about this fascinating film project, including many more artworks from it, and what might have been, had the stars aligned.

Sadly, this isn’t the only film project Mick has worked on that failed to progress further. downthetubes reader and artist Alfie Gallagher reminds us that Freakshift, a project from  filmmaker and screenwriter Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, produced by Rook Films, sadly failed to gain funding a few years back.

Our thanks to David Rees for telling us about The Unholy Grail, and I hope he will forgive the interruption of a pandemic in reporting his investigations here in downthetubes.

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.



Categories: Animation, downthetubes News, Features, Film, Other Worlds, Science Fiction

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