Monday, 25 January 2010

It's a book! Two words!

This week's Spine Chiller is up to read now, can Lovecraft cope with the sad loss of a beloved friend?

I could tell you about Project Rhubarb, but I'd have to kill you :) But it's coming. What was that noise from the attic...?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Wintery Spine Chillers

This weeks episode sees the boys taking advantage of our glorious weather, with devastating consequences!

And The Spine Chillers is now featured on webcomic directory site The Webcomic List!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Dark Shadows

It's been a while since I talked about my love for the 1960s TV series Dark Shadows, so here I go again! I am committed to watching all 1225 episodes in order, and it is something that I love with such an enduring passion that I know I will be a fan for the rest of my life. With a baby on the way my Dark Shadows marathon is currently on hiatus for a while at episode 568, but it won't be long before I'm deep into the mystery and intrigue at Collinwood once again...
so I thought I'd share the article I wrote about Dark Shadows for Paul Scott's comic Omnivistascope, here it is...

A generation of American kids ran home from school to catch the latest episode. Stephen King and Tim Burton cite it as a major inspiration. As a child Johnny Depp loved Barnabas Collins so much he wanted to be him. But you’ve probably never heard of Dark Shadows. Luckily for you Ben Clark sets the record straight.

In 1966, the American TV Network ABC launched a new afternoon soap opera called Dark Shadows. It would go on to become one of the most unusual and enduring programmes in the history of television. Instead of the usual soap opera fare, Dark Shadows was about vampires, ghosts, mad scientists, witches, werewolves and zombies. Though virtually unknown in Britain, a huge following still exists for the show in America. Come with Omnivistascope on a journey to the great house of Collinwood, high atop Widows Hill…
Dark Shadows is a Gothic romance about the wealthy and mysterious Collins family, so influential the town of Collinsport, Maine is named for them. It begins when raven haired orphan girl Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) gets a job as Governess at their stately mansion Collinwood. She has been employed by the matriarch of the family, Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Joan Bennett), but for what reason? She immediately gets involved in a feud between aging playboy Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds) and the debonair Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan), who has served time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Then she encounters the supernatural entity that is Roger Collins’ ex-wife, and is kidnapped by crazy Matthew Morgan (Thayer David), only to be rescued by a ghost, all at the same time as trying to discover details about her mysterious past.
Dark Shadows was the brainchild of TV Producer Dan Curtis and writer Art Wallace. Curtis later made the two Kolchak TV movies, precursors to the series Kolchak-The Night Stalker, a huge influence on The X-Files, and the Emmy nominated mini-series The Winds of War. Wallace subsequently wrote for many esteemed productions, most notably Star Trek. Robert Cobert produced the haunting, Theremin-esque theme tune and incidental music, a major part of the show’s unique style.
While the programme is very much a product of both the conventions of 1960s TV and traditional soap opera, it stood out from the pack with it’s spooky vibe and air of Gothic mystery. Victoria’s journey is clearly inspired by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and though the show is set in the present day, the 18th Century mansion of Collinwood, with it’s oak panelling and grand staircase, give it a timeless quality. The sets built by Production Designer Sy Tomashoff are one of the greatest achievements of the show, equalling the opulence of a major motion picture with a tiny budget.
In the 1960s, television programmes were recorded “live to tape”. Editing technology was so primitive and expensive that the actors had to perform almost as if they were on stage in a theatre. Producing five half-hour episodes a week in this way inevitably led to mistakes, and Dark Shadows is famous for it’s bloopers and fluffed lines. You will no doubt have seen many a boom microphone in shot in films and on TV, but probably not the actual camera! However the mistakes add to the charm of the show after a while and are barely noticeable. If it’s OK for William Hartnell to fluff his lines on Doctor Who, then it’s certainly OK for Joan Bennett!
Apart from a couple of ghosts, the supernatural elements of Dark Shadows were relatively low-key. All of that was to change, however, with the introduction a year into the show of Barnabas Collins, the vampire.
Although the unusual nature of the show garnered praise and attention in the media, it was not a great success in terms of ratings. With cancellation looming, creator Dan Curtis and his team decided to try a different approach. A secret room is found in the Collins mausoleum by scumbag Willie Loomis (Cagney and Lacey’s John Karlen). He intends to rob the grave inside, but instead accidentally awakens the 200 year old vampire Barnabas Collins!
Played with enormous warmth and depth by classically trained actor Jonathan Frid,Barnabas soon takes Willie as his Renfield-like accomplice, and introduces himself to the family as a distant cousin from England. In reality he is the original Barnabas who lived in the house in the 18th Century, and supposedly left for England in 1795. Cursed to be a vampire, his own father imprisoned him in a chained coffin, and he has been there, fully conscious, ever since. This immediately made him a sympathetic monster, and audiences went crazy for him almost overnight. He was the saviour of Dark Shadows, but also something of a millstone in terms of the direction the show could now travel. Dan Curtis was somewhat ambivalent about his new leading man.“When Barnabas Collins turned into such a huge hit, I couldn't kill him off, which I had originally intended to do. I had to find a way to keep him alive.”
Barnabas quickly became the centre of the show. A series of attacks on young women starts to occur, and the horror of “The Collinsport Strangler” returns after almost 200 years. Other plotlines are discarded, with the Collins/Devlin feud settled amicably. Blackmailer Jason Maguire (Dennis Patrick) discovers Barnabas’ dark secret, so Barnabas murders him, and he is never seen again. It may not be the direction that Curtis originally intended, but this is as compelling as anything that 1960s television achieved in any capacity.
A murderer and a monster he certainly is, but Barnabas is the archetypal sympathetic vampire. It would be hard to imagine the novels of Anne Rice without him, for instance. Driven by his feelings for lost love Josette Dupres, Barnabas was adored by fans, however terrible his actions. He kidnaps local girl Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and attempts to drive her insane to the point where she believes she is Josette, who killed herself in 1795 after finding out what Barnabas had become. (It was Josette’s ghost who saved Victoria Winters when she herself was kidnapped earlier!) After a few months of these storylines, the show became a phenomenon, and Barnabas-Mania gripped America. Toys, games, comics and novels based around Barnabas and Dark Shadows were produced in huge quantities to appease the massive following the show had among children, unheard of for a soap opera.
Though the supernatural now dominated the show, Dark Shadows was still grounded in reality. None of the characters openly admit that a vampire may be behind the horror that has gripped Collinsport, and those that come close to the truth are killed or driven mad by Barnabas and his reluctant henchman Willie. Even after forty years, these events are truly shocking for a soap opera or drama of any genre.
If Barnabas had never been introduced then Dark Shadows would be almost forgotten today. It inspired a boldness in the creative team that, however outlandish the storylines they came up with, the more audiences lapped it up.
Nothing Curtis and his team came up with was as outlandish as the 1795 storyline. During a séance at Collinwood, Victoria Winters is sent hurtling through time back to the 18th Century, where she witnesses the terrible events that led to Barnabas being cursed in the first place. Over almost 100 episodes, she interacts with the Collins family of that period. Brilliantly, the historical family are portrayed by the actors who played their 20th Century counterparts. This “repertory company” approach was kept throughout the five years the show ran, with the same actors playing their past, present, future and parallel universe counterparts. On a daytime soap opera!
The wedding of Barnabas and Josette is destroyed by Josette’s maid Angelique (Lara Parker). Angelique is a powerful witch, who is in love with Barnabas. At the point of death she curses Barnabas to be a vampire for all eternity. This one act of spiteful jealousy leads to centuries of pain and misery for the Collins family and those around them. Again, the beautiful Angelique became a favourite with audiences, despite her despicable actions.
After narrowly avoiding being hanged for witchcraft, Victoria manages to return to the present, to find her boyfriend Burke Devlin apparently killed in a plane crash, and Barnabas’ secret still not revealed to the wider Collins family. This is about a third of the way through the series. Alas, beyond this point I can take you no further. Not even the mighty Omnivistascope can compel me to seek out spoilers for episodes I have yet to see! My Dark Shadows marathon is time consuming and bloody expensive, but without question one of the most rewarding and exciting things I have ever encountered.
Apart from Prisoner-Cell Block H, Dark Shadows is the only long running soap opera ever to have all of it’s episodes released on home video. All 1,225 episodes are available on Region One DVD from MPI Media Group. I hope that I have made the show sound like it is worth further investigation! But a word of warning. Once you step through the doors of Collinwood, you may find that you never want to leave.

Joan Bennett
Joan Bennett played Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, and she was the star of Dark Shadows. Starting in silent cinema, she became a major film star in the 1940s and 50s, appearing in several Fritz Lang pictures, Max Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment with James Mason, and was Mrs Spencer Tracy in the original version of Father of The Bride. Later in her career she also appeared in Dario Argento’s film Suspiria, itself reminiscent of Dark Shadows. Her character, the head of the Collins family, gave the show a real sense of drama and purpose, and in 1968 she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Joan Bennett died in 1990, after an acting career spanning seven decades.

The Story That Refused To Die
Two Dark Shadows feature films were made at the height of the show’s popularity in the early 1970s, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. Both are available on DVD. In 1991 a lavish remake of the series aired on NBC, starring Ben Cross as Barnabas, and also featured Jean Simmons and Roy Thinnes. It started successfully, but was tossed around the schedule because of coverage of the Gulf War, and was cancelled after 12 episodes. In 2004 a pilot for another remake was made by Warner Bros. Starring Alec Newman as Barnabas and Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters, it was not picked up for a series or even broadcast and remains generally unseen.Big Finish Productions began their series of Dark Shadows audio plays in 2006. Similarly to their Doctor Who range, the plays feature original cast members like Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, John Karlen and Lara Parker. Robert Cobert also contributed music for the plays, which still continue today.Warner Bros. retain the rights to Dark Shadows, and in 2007 announced that they were to make a Dark Shadows feature film. It appears that Johnny Depp will be fulfilling his childhood fantasy of being Barnabas Collins after all, as he is currently lined up to star in the film, with a provisional 2010 release date.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

New Year Spine Chillers

A double episode of The Spine Chillers is up to read to start off 2010! The thrilling New Years's Eve episode, and also discover the awful truth about where Poe got the idea for The Raven from.
Quoth the Ben- know the score!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Alan Frankenstein's Tales From The Allotment

Another new story up to read on my Comicspace page! Alan Frankenstein's Tales From The Allotment was originally done for an anthology book that never got off the ground, and it eventually ended up in Shabby Tales 1.
It's a story of Alan's day off, but really it's the pilot episode of crime fighting extravaganza Frankenstein and Onions. The first episode proper will be appearing soon, can Spennymoor survive the horror of it all?
This isn't the first time Frankenstein and Onions have appeared though, they made a cameo appearance in my first ever comic Mike Neville Vs The Monkey God, along with other Spennyverse characters Winston Phibes AKA Chimpy, and Old Man Dracula and Terry from Nessie Vs Dracula. Crikey it seems like a million years ago...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Deadly Robot

The first story of the new Magic Beans Online Age is now up for you to read on my Comicspace page!
The Deadly Robot is a story I did last year for The Paper Jam Comics Collective's anthology comic Robots...And That. I hope you like it!

Lenny Biscuits

The epic gangster/werewolf/talking cactus murder mystery Lenny Biscuits was one of the first comics that I published, not long after Mike Neville Vs The Monkey God. I was always very fond of it, and Lenny himself, but for various reasons I could never quite get it going on a regular basis. Something else always seemed to come first, like Solar Wind or Mothman or The Spine Chillers.

Well all of that is about to change! Starting tomorrow, the whole of Lenny Biscuits Book One: Bite of The Strangler will be available to read on my Comicspace page. It contains the whole of the original three issues that I published, as well as a new epilogue and the thoughts of Dr Crime in Who Killed Mrs Biscuits? And there is also a preview of what is to come in Book Two: Windy City Rumble. I'm hard at work on that and publishing Lenny Biscuits online has given me a whole new motivation to get it going again, so I hope you enjoy it because there's a lot more to come in Lenny's wild and crazy adventures!

And I hope you'll email Dr Crime with your thoughts on Whodunnit, because he lives for it. He needs it!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Space Year 2010

Happy New Year my friends! The magical mystery tour that was 2009 is over, it was quite a year for me, hope it was for you too.

I start 2010 at a huge turning point in my life. In a few months I will be a father. Jo and our son are my whole world and I love them so very much. But there is still room in that world for comics!

The Spine Chillers occupied most of my creative output last year, and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who has been reading it and has supported me. I love doing Spine Chillers and we've got huge plans for Year 2, including a collected edition full of surprises and new lovely things. Keep watching the pies!

Which brings me to my other comics. I've decided that with my main project being a webcomic, and with a baby on the way and me not going to many conventions in the near future, I won't be publishing any more comics for the foreseeable future.
Stop crying! What I intend to do is publish everything online from now on, with my eventual goal to collect them all in a book, similar format to Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy. God I love that book. I'll still be making the odd small, imperfectly formed bit of daftness here and there to give away, like the forthcoming Stringer Bell At The Earths Core. But Mike Neville, Lenny Biscuits, Griefbringer, Tab Monkey, Frankenstein and Onions, Professor Cosmonaut and Waxy the Elephant Detective and all the rest, they live online now. And one day in The Magic Beans Book.
I also intend to actually update my website! So I'll keep you informed of what I'm up to, when there's a new story up on my Comicspace page, and when I have a story appearing in another title, like that time I totally forgot to tell you about my Judge Dredd story in Zarjaz 8!
And as for everyone's favourite Fortean Diagnosis Murder fan, he's coming! The Mysterious Affair At Mothman's is on it's way soon.
As a great philosopher once said- Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. This is a momentous year for me, but I intend 2010 to be my most productive year yet.
pip pip,