Friday, 25 May 2012

Comics conventions and an unconventional comic

Simon Gurr is the artist who has cleverly illustrated the new Scarifyers comic book. He lives in Bristol and has massive hair, and also kindly wrote this for us...
There’s a new comic out this week. In many respects it is rather unusual. It isn’t American or colour or interrupted by Sea Monkey ads. The protagonists eschew lycra. No female characters are scantily clad. Only one gunshot is discharged and the number of punches can be counted on one fist. WAIT! Come back! It’s a new comic! It’s funny! And also rather mysterious! Based on a popular BBC radio series!

Scarifyers issue 1

It’s The Scarifyers issue 1 and people have said it’s very good. Being the artist I couldn’t possibly say that myself, it just wouldn’t be British. However, I can tell you I worked very very hard on it, and I had a great script from the series creator Simon Barnard.

Simon created The Scarifyers about 5 years ago, as an audio series which continues to be the main platform for the adventures of Messrs Lionheart, Dunning and Crow. But when we first met at Bristolcon 2011 he revealed a plan to make a Scarifyers comic. I was enthusiastic – having heard The Magic Circle on BBC Radio 4 Extra I could see the stories were robust enough to work in different formats – and before long Simon sent me a script which had me itching to draw. I must admit, I thought a comics script by a radio writer would need a bit of tweaking to work well in a visual medium, but in his adaptation of The Nazad Conspiracy Simon seemed to instinctively understand what would and wouldn’t work.

Garen Ewing's Scarifyers cover
All the Scarifyers CDs benefit from handsome cover art by Garen Ewing, the very talented writer/artist behind The Rainbow Orchid among other things. I took Garen’s elegant ‘ligne claire’ style as the starting point for the look of the comic strip itself, but I knew the darker moments of the story would need light and shade not normally associated with this kind of illustration. I looked at Blake & Mortimer, Hellboy and The Iron Wagon while I was developing the style of the strip and Simon pointed me towards parts of my own Bristol Story artwork which he thought worked well.

I felt that the 1930s period would be better evoked if the pages themselves looked old. I used halftone screens for the greys to mimic older printing technology and even scanned in dozens of pages of blank paper to provide a range of newsprint rough paper textures! In the end, these background textures were abandoned but a slight texture was retained for the black areas.


Garen’s covers used the likenesses of The Scarifyers lead actors Terry Molloy and Nicholas Courtney as starting points for his portrayal of Professor Dunning and Inspector Lionheart. I began the same way.

This is the first drawing I made in preparation for Scarifyers issue 1, a fairly close likeness of Nicholas Courtney, but the more I drew the more Lionheart the character replaced Nicholas the actor.

Through a very productive email correspondence with Simon, the artwork for Scarifyers issue 1 started to take shape. It was completed just in time to be printed ready for Bristol Comic Expo and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy where we road-tested the comic; Simon at TGSITG, me (in costume as Professor Dunning!) at BCE. [Photo: Mike Molcher]

I was delighted with the reaction at Bristol. I sold a lot of copies and talked to many fans of the radio series who were pleased to see a new format for The Scarifyers. I also had the pleasure of showing the comic to Garen Ewing for the first time.

A week later Simon and I manned the Scarifyers table at Kapow! Comic Convention in London. I have to say this was the most positive convention experience I have ever had.

Simon and Simon at Kapow! Convention
Our table was very well located and we had a more or less steady flow of visitors; some coming simply to talk, others to buy CDs and comics. We were kept busy on both days, ably assisted by Simon’s wife Anya who provided much-needed biscuits and even managed to get a copy of the comic to Peter Serafinowicz! (Peter’s show on 6 Music was one of the things that kept me going as I neared the end of the deadline!)

I came away from the conventions feeling very grateful and excited by the reaction to the new comic. I hope it does as well as these events suggest it will. I’d certainly love to draw more!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Behind the Green Door

This blog entry, as originally envisaged, was to take you behind the scenes of a day's recording of The Scarifyers. You'd follow every minute of the recording as it took shape, gasp at directorial hiccups and thespian tantrums, and thrill as we finished the recording with seconds to spare. 

This didn't happen.

Instead, at the recording of the forthcoming 'The Horror of Loch Ness,' co-writer Paul Morris thought it would be a good idea to report on something far more interesting: what happens in the Moat Studios legendary Green Room.  Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Recording of The Horror of Loch Ness gets underway. Apparently. I wasn’t there to witness this, though - not through lack of willingness on my part, but because getting a train that arrives in London before 10am costs about £50, and as much as I love The Scarifyers, it’s not that good.
After a hectic journey, and a detour into a local newsagent’s to buy a notepad on which to write this journal, I finally arrive. It takes me several attempts to get through the elaborate security systems at the monolithic complex of which Moat Studios is a part. I eventually realise that I’m not being ignored by those inside, but simply pressing the wrong doorbell.
Finally gain access to the Moat (which could only be more difficult to achieve if the place actually had a moat). Greeted by what we used to refer to as The Two Davids – Benson and Bickerstaff. The rest of the team, including our newest David, Mr Warner, is busy recording. As a result of some minor disasters on previous recording days, Simon has decided to record this story in scene order. Benson is playing with his iPad.
Lizzie Roper emerges from the studio, having finished recording her opening scenes as birdwatcher-with-a-secret Vivian Beak. She is slightly concerned about how to differentiate the various characters she is playing today, so I give her a swift and hopefully concise précis of each – “She’s in her thirties and English, she’s in her eighties and Scottish, she’s in her fifties and probably Scottish, but doesn’t have to be.” It turns out that Lizzie can do two different Scottish accents, so all is well.
Alex Lowe and guest star Philip Madoc join us in the green room (which, sorry to spoil your illusions, is not actually green). For such a young man, Alex has accrued an extraordinary number of showbiz stories and anecdotes; here he regales us with a delightful story about the actor P**** B****** being a complete bastard.
Our stars, David Warner and Terry Molloy, are finally released from the studio. Both promptly produce iPads and immerse themselves in them. What’s going on with actors and iPads? Do they get an Equity discount?
Follow Benson into the studio so that I can enjoy his first performance as Aleister Crowley for over four years. Unfortunately he can’t remember the voice… Some discussion follows. “Is that it?” Close. There’s a bit of Arthur Nesbitt creeping in though - Crowley didn’t have whistling teeth. “How about this?” Better…  “Not too camp or over the top?” Actually, I think Crowley was even more more camp and over the top than that. “Bloody hell.”
Have a nice chat with Mr Madoc. He has lots of interesting questions regarding his character’s backstory and his motives at various points. I help out as best I can, and try to avoid saying “You’d need to ask Simon about that…” too often.
Our sound man Martin Johnson arrives. Today he’s doubling as photographer, to ensure we have some nice snaps of the cast to adorn the CD. Talk in the green room turns to Brian Blessed and thence to swearing. (Apparently he appeared on Stephen Fry’s programme last night, cursing quite ripely for a Sunday evening.) Everyone present has had first-hand experience of Blessed’s gift with profanity, and many anecdotes are exchanged. (If you’d like to hear Brian being very rude at a Scarifyers recording, just click here)
Back in the studio. For some reason Alex Lowe seems to be channelling Basil Fawlty. Eventually I realise that he is playing the manager of the hotel where Crowley is staying, and all becomes clear. 
Break for lunch. This is the only point in the whole day when producer Simon Barnard is allowed out into the light, and even then it’s only fleeting. As you may have read elsewhere, Moat Studios’ lunches are legendary, and with good reason. Today the trifle goes down particularly well with cast and crew.
Helping Mr Madoc again. He tries out a big moment for his character in scene 58, and suddenly it’s as though Dr Mehendri Solon* is sitting next to me. Should be good… (* Villain in the 1976 Doctor Who story The Brain of Morbius, to whom his character in The Horror of Loch Ness may or may not bear a slight resemblance.)
No-one can remember the name of a particular actor who someone once worked with. Disaster! But what’s this – it’s David Warner to the rescue with his iPad. Hooray! The anecdotes can continue.
Mr Madoc bemused by the whole idea of Facebook. Benson launches into a bravura attempt to explain the concept behind it, but to no avail.
Conversation turns to Dad’s Army, whose co-writer David Croft died recently. Mr Madoc needs little encouragement to re-enact the “Don’t tell him Pike” scene for our amusement. Realise we should have written a pastiche of this moment into the Scarifyers script, but it’s too late now.
Or is it…?
Yes, it is.
Creep back into the studio in time to hear our cast launch into what the script describes as “an oafish barbershop version of Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’.” Yes, it’s the soon-to-be legendary Singing Neanderthals Scene… And if you want to know how that makes sense in the context of the story, you’ll just have to wait for the CD! Which may or may not help you.
Conversation yet again turns to Brian Blessed; Alex once shared a villa with Brian for a couple of months, so naturally the subject is close to his heart. Devise Morris’s Law: “As any conversation between a group of actors grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning Brian Blessed approaches 1.”
Lizzie and Terry compare notes on hidden camera shows (Terry was once part of the Beadle’s About team). From Lizzie’s recent experiences, it seems standards have declined in the last twenty-five years.
Photo op – potential cover poses with our heroes. “Pretend you’re in a rowing boat. That’s right. Can you hold an oar? David, look heroic. Terry, look terrified.” SNAP!
Provide Philip with a nice cup of tea. He’s just about to take a swig when he’s called back in to the studio. Can he take his mug? No, he can’t. It’s a hard life being an actor, and no mistake.
Sneak back into studio. Checking the scene number against my script, it seems we’re nearly there. Could we even finish early, for once? That would be a miracle, considering this is – yet again – our longest script so far.
We tackle the big final scene. At two and half closely-typed pages it’s probably the longest we’ve written since the mammoth four-page finale of Nazad Conspiracy.
And as Doctor Pippin exits our story in the clutches of – well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it – Philip Madoc is done. Back to the green room and his long-awaited tea he goes.
Final scene. David Warner has to do some whistling, and asks for a stunt double because he can’t.
Oh no! We’re not finished after all! Simon rounds up as many actors as can be bothered and gets started on a lengthy round of recording “wildtracks” – background noises, to you and me. “You’re a group of Scottish bystanders. You’re surprised at what you’re seeing. “ Oohs and aahs. “You’re not happy with what you’re hearing.” Muttered oaths and curses. “You’re a group of Neanderthals.” Charming, says one actor, missing the point. Scottish Neanderthals? asks another, facetiously. And on the improvising goes, our actors slowly but inexorably getting into the Neanderthal spirit, towards its inevitable apotheosis of stupidity.
Now we really have finished, with about ten seconds to spare. As Simon calls Cut (not really), our cast to a man race off into the sunset. Studio engineer Toby presses some buttons and the day’s recordings are written to CD…

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Oh crumbs! It's Terry Molloy!

Since page one of The Scarifyers, Terry Molloy has brought inept paranormal investigator and terrible author Professor Edward Dunning to life. But he's best known for playing milkman Mike Tucker in Radio 4's long-running drama serial The Archers, and for the role of Davros, creator of the evil Daleks, in Doctor Who. In real life he is neither a milkman nor a crippled alien genius, but a winning combination of both.

When you first read the part of Professor Dunning in The Scarifyers, was it immediately obvious how you’d play him?

The great thing about a really good script is that when you receive one and read it, the characters jump off the page and bite you in the.. er.. on the nose!

Without trying to ‘big up’ Simon and Paul, in the case of the Scarifyers I was instantly immersed in a world I could see peopled by characters that simply had unique vibrant ‘life’!

Dunning was instantly recognizable to me although I couldn’t at first say for why or for whom. It was only after I listened to The Devil of Denge Marsh that the penny finally dropped…. Dunning is the natural descendant of a character I created in my very first professional job back in 1968. Then, however, he was called Mr. Spectrum, the keeper of the Rainbow Box for the Rainbow Queen – a bumbling old professor who enlisted the help of the children in the audience to help mend a broken rainbow and save the Queen - in a children’s theatre production that had been written by the master of the art – Brian Way.

He just came back to life in my imagination as soon as I read the script for The Nazad Conspiracy that had been so cleverly written by Simon.

You seem to enjoy playing him. Are you fond of him as a character?

I love playing Dunning, he has all the childlike qualities of a true innocent coupled with all the enthusiasm and naïve excitement for ‘the chase’ along with a complete ineptitude at being heroic. He makes heroes of those around him - be it Lionheart, ‘Thumper’ Crow, or even (to a lesser degree) the other Fantasists – and has a unnerving belief in the goodness of everyone and expresses that in his total trust of what they say, which turns into a perplexed puzzlement and sadness when they show themselves to be less than what he thought them to be.

I have now to freely admit that of the many characters and persona I have inhabited on stage, TV and radio… Dunning is without doubt the closest to my real self beneath the mask that as actors we so often put on! Oh Crumbs!!!

Your biography says that you were born in 1947 into a Tyneside theatrical family... were you forced into the acting profession?

Absolutely not! My father was vehemently opposed to my entering the theatrical profession when it was mooted by my Mother – “That child will be a ‘clown’ over my dead body!” he stormed – which proved sadly prophetic as he died when I was just 16. He wanted me to enter a ‘real’ profession and become a Doctor or a Vet or follow him into the RAF as a pilot. I actually thought this quite a good idea until my 'O' Level exam results proved I had about as much idea or aptitude for science as a penguin!

You studied Music and Drama at Liverpool in the mid 1960s, moonlighting in a soul band at The Cavern Club. Tell us more!

I had done well in music while at school so, not having achieved a drama school place, I headed north to Liverpool where as you say I spent a lot of time between lectures playing in a soul band in most of the clubs around at the time – yes, including The Cavern! I played Baritone and Tenor Saxophone and seriously considered becoming a musician, but being an innately lazy individual I knew I would have to work really hard to be as good as I felt I possibly could be as a musician and so I turned to acting instead as it seemed easier… and had more days off! And so Dunning was born!!

In 1973 you joined The Archers as milkman Mike Tucker. Nearly 40 years on you’re still playing the part, during which time Mike has lost various parts of his anatomy. Is he the unluckiest milkman (in the west)?

‘Mike’ has been a part of ‘me’ virtually all my working life… he is an uncomplicated son of the soil who believes in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, he suffers fools with not much gladness at all and usually only opens his mouth to change feet! For all his failings he is a good egg at the core, but so unlucky at times. In fact we used to joke that the only way to make Mike a millionaire would be to start him off as a multi-billionaire… as he would probably lose most of it fairly quickly. He has mellowed with age and now seems settled and content with his curvaceous new wife Vicky…. but will that last? Who knows!

You formed the Archers fan club, Archers Addicts, and now seem to spend a lot of time touring the world on various Archers cruises. This seems like a terrific wheeze on your part...?

Archers Addicts came into being in 1991 after I approached the BBC with an idea to have a fan club for the Archers run by the cast producing a newsletter and organising events for the listeners to the programme over and above the interaction they got merely by tuning in every night. The Beeb agreed that we could set up a Ltd Company separate and independent of the Corporation and for many years a small core of us worked day and night (for no real monetary reward) attending Agricultural shows, organising dinners and visits to the studios in Birmingham for fans, and generally chasing our tails. The culmination was setting up the NIA in Birmingham in 2001 for the 50th Anniversary of The Archers and producing a whole day event for many thousands of avid listeners to attend and meet up with the majority of the cast.

From there we moved to working with quality partners and linked up with Fred Olsen’s cruise line to present a flavour of the Archers as added value to their Arts Club (now called Vistas) cruise programme and take a few cast members on their ships for a couple of cruises each year to show the passengers how we record the programme. Yes, it has been a lovely way for me to see and experience parts of the world I would probably never have been to otherwise, however it is also surprisingly hard work with each cruise taking many months of preparation, planning and organisation to set in place!

Another interesting career footnote was being a member of the "hit squad" in Beadle's About. Happy memories?

Ah… Beadle’s About! A time of stress, very early starts and spending each day flying by the seat of your pants, as we never really knew how things would go until the subject of the scam appeared. Usually in a foul mood, if the research had been done well, so that we could just keep them off balance enough to develop the story until it was time for Beadle to enter and reveal himself. There were a few near misses in terms of things going belly up and one stunt which totally backfired when the subject who (having indulged in an overlong alcoholic luncheon) found the idea of his prize country garden in Hertfordshire being turned into a commuter heliport for London, complete with the noisy landing of a real Air King Helicopter, highly amusing and offered to crack open a bottle! An expensive production howler!

1984, and you take over the role of Davros, creator of the Daleks. How did you get the role?

The role fell into my lap courtesy of Matthew Robinson who had just been directing me in a series for TVS set in a local radio station – Radio Phoenix. He approached me to ask if I would take on the role, as Michael Wisher (who was the original ‘Davros’) was not free to do it. I watched the tapes of Genesis of the Daleks and agreed to have a go… and then they kept asking me back!

I won’t say it was the most physically enjoyable of jobs… the mask and chariot were hard work… but it was certainly a lot of fun to do and wonderful to be part of a programme that had already begun to achieve cult status.

They modeled a new mask for me, which required me to have a head mould made, and a new chariot - which was not the marvel of electronic wizardry it may appear! Four by two timber, two 12 volt car batteries to run the electric lights… all on something like a supermarket trolley base that always went in the opposite direction to the way you wanted it to go… and me squeezed in and dragging it around with my toes trying to make it look like a smooth glide!! The sweat began to pour – believe me!! Nearly 30 years later and I am still playing Davros, but thankfully now on audio with no mask or chariot to contend with!

Like Mike Tucker, Davros doesn’t have a lot of luck, but still seems to be with us. What’s the appeal of Davros? His charm? Good looks?

For me the appeal of playing Davros has been exploring the way he thinks and especially in his relationship with The Doctor. At its best it can be a wonderful and complex mental chess game between two creatures of equal intelligence who recognise the similarities in each other and yet play against each other’s weaknesses to try and win the battle…. though never the war!

In the four part audio miniseries I, Davros we explored the journey Davros made from boy to monster and in setting down the cannon of his early life I felt we had shined a light on how genius can, by the force of both nature and nurture, be overtaken by psychosis and teeter on a pin head toward possible madness. Every time I play him I find something new... and that is the greatest excitement for an actor!

For those who picture you as either a one-eyed milkman or one-eyed alien genius, can you confirm that actually you bear an uncanny resemblance to Eric Clapton? (and have two eyes)

Apparently that is the case! Having appeared in an episode of Casualty, I was asked by Harry Hill the very next week to appear in the closing credits of his TV Burp show (apparently they thought I bear this resemblance to Eric Clapton) wearing a hospital gown, attached to a drip and playing guitar as we segued from ‘Layla’ into the Casualty Theme!!! I tell you, my street cred with my children went up 1000% after that!!

It is spooky though that both the characters I am well known for - Mike Tucker and Davros - each have only one eye! I can confirm however that in real life I am binocular in my visual acuity…! Oh Crumbs! Dunning is always lurking round the corner isn’t he?

And finally, tell us something about Terry Molloy we don’t know…

In 1997 I joined a building team that went out to the north of Zambia as part of a charity project for six weeks and helped construct (with – at that time - absolutely no building experience on my part but by dint of hard graft) a large administration building from the ground up (including making the bricks from concrete dust and rubble). I believe the building is still standing!

And you can find out even more about Tezza at his official website: