70s Secrets Revealed!

It's only Bok & Roll. The Brig clips Macca's Wings

If you think Doctor Who Confidential got a rough ride recently from BBC3 then spare a thought for the 1970s Doctor Who production team. Their projected sister-show, ‘The Secret World of Doctor Who’, never even made it to transmission. Find out how it almost happened in my latest STARBURST strip right here http://t.co/5sG9l3mX 

What a Harry On

I’ve had some more self-penned Harry Hill strips out in The Dandy Comic recently and, seeing as I’ve been asked on occasion about the strip-writing process, it seems like a good opportunity to reveal a little bit about my approach. You can check out Nigel Parkinson’s site to glean a few secrets about his prodigious penmanship. I’m regularly gobsmacked by how quickly, deftly and hilariously he produces his work, but I’m guessing that thirty years of creating top-drawer art on a weekly basis may have something to do with this!

Harry avoids Humble Pie and goes for the crumble in a recent strip. Click on the image to enlarge

I usually start with a theme that grabs me; one that can be stretched over 2 (sometimes 4) pages, incorporating many frames. The Harry strip is rather different from many comic strips in that it isn’t just a single-page sequence building up to a theme-related pay-off. It carries its premise across as many detailed sight or pun-related gags as possible, often with diversions. A good example is the recently published 4 page Bubbles strip. What inspired it was simply the thought that bubbles provide great scope; what with bubble baths, perms and cars, ‘bubbly’ TV personalities and speech bubbles etc.

Plenty of room for puns and expert caricatures in the 4 page ‘Bubbles’ strip

Nigel regularly has Harry visiting a whole range of bizarre factories so I thought it’d be good if he and Knitted Character visited the location where all the Dandy speech bubbles end up. It was great fun playing with some of the established symbols of comics and I was delighted with the end result. Nigel absolutely nailed the script and, as usual, improved it with his choices. Gifted cartoonist Paul Cemmick once told me that drawing strips is like directing a film. You have to make exactly the right choices within the frame to convey the story successfully and Nigel is an expert at this, to the point where he makes it look easy.

Here are a couple of examples of my Bubbles script with Nigel’s finished work beneath. 

5. Large panel. Harry and KC walk between massive stacks of speech balloons, piled up like Pringles. A few speech balloons lie around containing recognisable Dandyisms etc. A couple of others contain expressions such as YEOWWCH!! GLUURRGH!! OOF!! & AAARRRGGGHHH!!! 

       A few smaller balloons whiz up to the ceiling. Caption: Helium Balloons

              On the floor a couple of balloons with arms and legs drink and dance, dizzily. Caption: Party Balloons. 

            Elsewhere, a couple walk around with rain and lightning coming out from beneath them. Caption: Weather balloons.

             Nearby, a balloon jabs another balloon in its stomach. 

             Balloon 1: Oi, are you ‘avin an affair with my missus?

             Balloon 2: Leave it aht!

             Caption: ‘Soap’ bubbles

             HH: This where all the balloons and speech bubbles are stored after being used in The Dandy!

Harry enters a world of potential bubble and strife ©The Dandy 2011

 PAGE 4 

  1. Tossing the other speech balloon over his shoulder, Harry picks up a pile of smaller speech balloons.

HH: You’ve been a bit quiet, Knitted Character! I’ll soon fix that!

     2. Harry holds out the small balloons like he’s performing a card trick.

 HH: Let’s play ‘balloon fish!’ Pick a balloon. Any Balloon!

3. KC leans forward and grabs one that says. 

Balloon: I’ll have this one please, Harry. 

HH: That’s a bit boring! Choose another! 

In KC’s other hand is a smaller bubble that just says:

Balloon: Ok

Fishy business. Nigel Parkinson deals a clean hand

I tend to over-write my scripts, throwing in as many gags or detail as I’m inspired to – which leaves Nigel free reign to cherry-pick as much as he wishes. The bonus here is that some of the unused jokes can be used in later strips. Nigel writes the majority of the Harry strips and I’m happy to let him take away or add as much as he likes to mine. He always sticks to the original structure and includes most of my material. Only occasionally the strip is minimally altered with a few minor additions/deletions, like Bubbles.

A particular favourite, this panel made me laugh out loud when I received it

Sometimes, as with the recent popular Highland Games story, some of the page’s content will be radically restructured by Nigel. In my original draft, Harry was walking in the Scottish Highlands where he meets Michael Caine and David Cameron via a William Wallace digression. None of these characters actually made it to print. On page 2 he hears about the Games via an old guy in a small, pun-laden shop and then cycles there on a ‘wild’ mountain bike. Nigel moved the shop to an urban area, killed the bike idea (perhaps figuring it was superfluous because of the later action-based panels) and made the proprietor Gordon Brown! Perfect.

Frantic Time Lord antics from the mammoth 12 page special ©The Dandy

Earlier in the year, I felt as though I’d hit the ground running with my first submission, which had a theme of ‘Lords’. Plenty of scope with one simple theme there, I felt. I had Harry on the Thames and then in the House of Lords where he encountered Susan Boyle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Golem, a Little Britain character, Sir Alan Sugar and all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who!  He then visits the jungle and encounters quite a few ‘I’m a Celebrities’. Before I knew it, Nigel and Harry had decided to develop the idea and somehow my first ever published comic strip had expanded from 4 pages into a 12 page special where Harry does all of the above via some Doctor-related shenanigans and a trip into space.

A Cheeky influence. Classic stuff from 1978

After writing several Harry stories I realised that I was subconsciously channeling the Cheeky strips that I loved as a kid. A brilliant creation that started life in Krazy comic, Cheeky was an odd-looking cove (mostly drawn by the indefatigable Frank McDiarmid) who amused himself on his many jaunts by relentlessly wise-cracking gags and entertaining/infuriating as many characters as possible. Sound familiar?

Master of the Shoeniverse? Harry gets the boot in a new strip. All images © The Dandy comic

One of the things I love about writing for the strip is that the premise is completely flexible and largely without constraint. Of course, there must be a character journey of sorts and some interaction between celebrities at theirs or Harry’s expense. Like its parent telly programme, TV Burp, there are plenty of juicy opportunities to go off at ridiculous tangents. Finally, in true comics-tradition, there’ll usually be an upbeat ending that incorporates a play on words relating to the theme. Even if this involves the character’s ‘downfall’ it should still feel EXUBERANT!




Bursting with Goodness

As a sci-fi loving teenager in the early 80s my regular reading regime consisted mainly of the always thrill-powered 2000AD comic and the monthly delights of a quickly-maturing Doctor Who Magazine. Whilst reading the latter it became increasingly hard to ignore the regular adverts for a fantasy film and TV magazine called Starburst. Its striking covers, often featuring the likes of zombies, Snake Plissken and scantily-clad females, were catnip to my curiosity and once I bought my first issue I was hooked.

My first Starburst. Didn't buy it for the Ringo pic if I'm honest

Throughout the summer months I loved staying up with my dad to watch BBC2’s classic Saturday night horror double-bills, so to be able to actually read about those films in brilliant detail was like drinking from the Holy Grail. The photos that accompanied them were lovingly displayed and those that depicted scenes from the new wave of American horror films were often quite shocking. (Some of those films, later viewed at the height of the ‘video-nasty’ era were shocking for all the wrong reasons). A spread from John Carpenter’s forthcoming Escape from New York had me both fascinated and repulsed by riotous scenes outside the Choc-Full-o-Nuts that included an impaled head perched on a parking meter. Nice going, Starburst! I also vividly remember a colourful spread on 1972’s Tales from the Crypt featuring an image of Peter Cushing as the zombified Arthur Grimsdyke that was far more unsettling than any actual scenes in the movie.  If it wasn’t for Starburst I wouldn’t have gone to see the likes of Time Bandits, a superbly-realised flick that I knew nothing about before happening upon a generously-endowed piece in the mag. Mind you, I also wouldn’t have endured the highly dubious double-billing of Krull and Saturn 3 at the Bolton Odeon. Nice going, Starburst! The sheer level of insight, humour and detail lavished upon all imagination-firing films and TV by the Starburst team kept me gripped for years. I have particularly fond memories of purchasing an issue almost entirely dedicated to my favourite film of all, Blade Runner.

Adric as you've never seen him before in my latest strip for the new-look Starburst

 Sadly, for a variety of reasons far too mundane to mention here, Starburst magazine ‘paused’ publication a few years ago; a shadow of its former stellar self. But now, via the miracle of the internet, a dedicated cabal of talented creators – Starburst enthusiasts all- have resuscitated the sleeping leviathan in online form! Here you can find an essential rolling news portal dedicated to bringing you all the latest fantasy/sci-fi/horror news, expertly interspersed amongst entertainingly written articles – all lovingly presented in the classic Starburst mould. Oh, and it also features a regular comic strip created by me;  something I would often dream about whilst reading those electrifying articles on Raiders, Scanners and Michael Caine flop The Hand all those years ago.  http://www.starburstmagazine.com/
My fisrt strip for the new-look Starburst covered a vital topic: the Doctor's hair

Drawing inspiration

Drawing a birthday card for my girlfriend Emily today I was reminded just how much I enjoy cartooning. Before concentrating on writing I used to draw non-stop. I even got paid for it on occasion! Getting lost in a picture whilst listening to good music must be one of life’s most rewarding pleasures. I love tackling caricatures too. Here’s one of Sir Ian McKellen from a while back.

Hang ‘em High

I recently had the pleasure of working with Brighton artist Jim Sanders, interviewing him to provide publicity copy for his forthcoming shows. Jim is a very talented, committed painter who also works in 3D. His diverse influences include sex, religion, children’s art and Paul Klee. Featuring among his pieces are giant figure paintings on sackcloth, impressive totems and striking collaborations with the artist Paul Ostrer. As well as being highly gifted creatives they’re both lovely fellas, so check out their links at the side of the page and look out for their shows over the coming months.


Well hung. Sanders' distinctive figures


The Creepiest TV intros ever

Recently I watched the slick, bouncy and nowhere-near sinister intro to children’s show The Sarah Jane Adventures and wondered if it has anywhere near as much impact on today’s generation as some of the grainy, low-lit and downright terrifying classics of my youth. For me it’s a no-brainer but what do YOU think? Am I missing out on some current creepy classics, or is the 1970s the definitive era for nightmare-inducing TV? And I’m only talking about the intros. Take a dark and lonely walk with me down memory creek to sample my selection of weird and wonderful telly titles of yore. But don’t look over your shoulder. You might regret it…


70’s kids’ TV essentials: Mysterious Marc Bolanesque adventurer? Check. Funky theme music? Check. Occult/Folk visuals? Of course. A bizarre acid-laced composite of tarot cards, cosmic animal-faces and Gene Simmons make-up tests? Need you really ask?


A millionaire-heavy Tory government, Fat Cats creaming bonuses out of the City and a spud-faced footballer on £250,000 a week. Yep, it’s a pretty screwed-up economy but it’s nothing compared to the early 70s with its  fuel crisis and Three-Day week . And The Changes, of course. The most depressing titles ever? Kids were tough as houses in them days but it scared the bewillies out of me.

It’s The Wicker Man for kids! Nuff said.

Hard to gauge the long-term psychological impact of this frankly insane masterpiece. Rumours that it was heavily used in Guantanamo Bay have yet to be disproved. Count the crash-zooms at your peril.

The pitch: a story programme for kids. The execution: a warped, fairground nightmare where you almost expect a pissed Jack-in-the-Box to slowly spring forward and vomit through the telly onto your shag-pile carpet. Hideous but unforgettable.

Psyche-swirled mushroom madness merging into a Triffid-faced Pertwee to the most alien-sounding music ever. To this day it’s an unrivalled promise of weirdness and excitement.

This was made by the Devil. That’s all you need to know.

And straight in at Number One… it’s Armchair Thriller. Simple but nightmare-inducingly effective. The combination of Andy MacKay from Roxy Music’s haunting theme and the spectral-shadow of a serial-murderer sitting down in his sparse, cold lair to watch terror TV kept me awake for months in the late 70s. Still gives me the shivers and that’s even before watching the ever-paralysing Quiet as a Nun.

So, there we have my hit parade of disturbing 70s TV titles. But there’s still room for a few bizarre inclusions that are creepy in their own particular way…

Supernatural forces are unleashed in this horse-powered saga. Or so it would seem by the disproportionate nature of the theme song. To a young child this was slightly perplexing. The programme’s called Follyfoot, not The Lightning Tree. In fact the closest the flipping Lightning Tree got to any kind of action was having Desmond Llewellyn tapping his pipe on it.

It wasn’t ecstasy-abuse that did for a whole generation. It was simply flashbacks to this singularly synapse-sizzling product.

This is nuts. The narration couldn’t alienate the casual viewer more with its clipped warning of transuranic heavy elements and medium atomic weights (?!). I particularly like the pause the narrator gives before saying ‘…Copper’ whilst he’s waiting for the animation to catch up with him. Great music though.

This is just about wrong on every single level. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have put it on here.

King of the bizarre TV intros has to be this curio from the early 80s. At the time I thought the music and titles were completely removed from its subject matter (a middle-aged man treated like a boy by his mollycoddling mother). But its annoying fusion of neon eye-scorchery combined with the music; a baffling slab of strangled-cat aqua-reggae now seems curiously appropriate. Some insist on calling it a classic. I just call it plain bloody weird. Perversely, it’s almost impossible to whistle, which is odd, as it insists on loitering in your head for weeks like a methylated squatter.