Friday, 19 December 2008

Top British Comic Creator Praises Ex Astris

Ex Astris: HOmecomingIn these days of media overload you sometimes miss something important, and in our case we completely missed a review of the Ex Astris strip that featured in the UK comics magazine Bulletproof #2, released earlier this year.

Over on his brilliant Blimey! It's Another Blog About Comics, cartoonist and writer Lew Stringer reviewed Bulletproof #2 at the end of November and was generous in his praise for the strip.

Noting publisher Matt Yeo's new British adventure anthology is "a rarity these days so it's good to see the second issue of Bulletproof finally appear", he offered high praise for many of the strips in the issue, arguing "the strength of Bulletproof is that it uses both new creators and established professionals. It's always good to see new talent emerging and it'll be interesting to see them develop.

Of Ex Astris, Lew wrote: "This CGI strip is my personal favourite in the issue. The computer generated art is very professsional and impressive, and John's script is tight and well told. (Readers may also be aware that a different Ex Astris adventure, also by Freeman and Nicoll, has just started running in Spaceship Away, - another UK adventure comic worth your money.)"

Coming from a British comics professional of such high standing, whose credits range from the much-loved Combat Colin to Sonic the Hedgehog and who currently draws strips for TOXIC and The Beano, this is high praise indeed for the strip. Our belated thanks to Lew for his kind words.

Bulletproof #2"All in all, Bulletproof is an interesting package and I'm looking forward to future issues," says Lew of the magazine.

• Bulletproof is not available in newsagents but can be ordered through comics speciality shops or buy it direct from the Bulletproof website here:

• Check out the rest of the impressive Bulletproof site for creator profiles, news of future issues, and more:

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ex Astris Episode 16

Ex Astris Episode 15

Ex Astris Episode 14

Ex Astris Episode 13

Ex Astris Episode 12

Ex Astris Episode 11

Ex Astris Episode 10

Ex Astris Episode 9

Ex Astris Episode 8

Ex Astris Episode 7

Ex Astris Writer Interviewed

John Freeman, keeper of and writer of Ex Astris, was recently interviewed by his local paper, the Morecambe Visitor, who did British comics proud with a two page spread.

John reports how Ex Astris has already attracted high acclaim from comic insiders with Doctor Who comic artist John Ridgway even suggesting it should be a TV series.

"Ex Astris reflects my love of the kind of sci-fi space adventures I grew up reading," explains John.

"I was a sucker for the work of Asimov, EE Doc Smith, Robert Heinlein and others, the kind of sci-fi I'd say Charles Stross and others are continuing to this day."

John's also reveals his partnership with artist Mike Nicoll is an unconventional one, because writer and artist have never actually met in person.

"Everything these days is done by e-mail and telephone," explains John.

• You can read the interview "Comic Book Heroes are Fighting Back" online.

Friday, 24 October 2008

ROK COMICS Now on iPhone

Rok Comics

ROK Comics has launched ROK Comics as an application on the Apple iPhone.

The ROK Comics application, the first of a planned series of applications currently in development by ROK for the iPhone, enables iPhone-owners to read a selection of strips from the huge and fast-growing ROK Comics portfolio, to include such strips as Anomaly (by Kennedy Rose), Crumb (by David Fletcher), Reddickulous (by David Reddick), sci-fi strip Crazy Mary (by Mike Colbert, Edward Woodward and others) and gothic comic Ligeia (by Rodrigo D. Ricci).

"We felt we should offer variety in our comics offering and this selection reflects the diversity of strips available on ROK Comics to include humour, adventure and sci-fi" ROK Comics Managing Editor John Freeman commented. "We will constantly be evaluating, adapting and looking at new features while adding further strips in future versions of the application."

More information about the new application can be found at:

"The iPhone is having a far-reaching effect in transforming access to - and use of - mobile entertainment," added ROK's Creative Director Graham Baines, "and we at ROK are focussed on deploying ever-more interesting, engaging and easy-to-use content services and applications into this fast-growing channel".

This week, the New York Times reported that Apple sold 6.9 million iPhones in the last quarter in the US alone and has already surpassed its goal of selling 10 million iPhones during 2008, according to Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs.

"This is an exciting development for us," said ROK’s Group CEO, Laurence Alexander "and reflects our ongoing commitment to develop and deploy engaging entertainment services to mobile phones globally."

ROK Comics ( provides comic publishers and creators to reach a worldwide audience by delivering comics to mobile phones, either by WAP subscription of Pay Per Download via Multi Media Messaging (MMS) with creators receiving up to 50% of the available revenue on every sale.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Bulletproofed Ex Astris!

An all-new adventure set on the ravaged Earth of Ex Astris
is just part of an all-star line up to Bulletproof Comics Issue 2, on sale now from British indie publisher Bulletproof Comics.

This is another 80-page beast of an issue, but this time around the title has 33 pages of full colour!

Here’s a breakdown of the stori and their respective creators: Marren Kane - Dave Hailwood & Tony Suleri; Sideburns - Jim Alexander & Jon Haward; Bunk Mates - Dave Hailwood & Paul Harrison-Davies; Game Over - Bulent Yusef & Dave Thomson; Funguys - Alan Grant & Alan Burrows; Last Orders - Dave Hailwood & Stuart Giddings; Redstitch - Lee Langford & Klaus Belarski; Ex Astris - John Freeman & Mike Nicoll; Love Hurts - Dave Hailwood & Stuart Giddings; and Slumbertown - Rik Hoskin, Thomas Crielly & John Doran

Check the Bulletproof web site for more details, a new Ex Astris web comic and more.

Spaceship Away On Sale Now

Spaceship Away Issue 16The latest issue of the Dan Dare-inspired comics magazine Spaceship Away is on sale now via the official web site, featuring no less than eleven strips - including part one Secrets of Ceres, an all-new Ex Astris adventure by downthetubes editor John Freeman and artist Mike Nicoll.

The issue also features a Dan Dare 'prequel' strip, Rocket Pilot, written and drawn by top Commando artist Keith Page; the first episode of a beautifully coloured version of Nick Hazard, Intersteallar Agent, drawn by Ron Turner (colouring supplied by John Ridgway); and two more continuing original Dan Dare strips, Green Nemesis and The Gates of Eden.

Editor Rod Barzilay sees the issue as a 'jumping on point' for new readers, with Ian McLumpha's Space Girls and Eric Chilton's Journey into Space (drawn by Tacconi) just two more strips in the jam-packed line up, complemented by a range of features on the making of the original Dan Dare stories.

Published three times a year,this full colour, glossy magazine started out as a way to get a newly created 1950’s ‘old Eagle’ style Dan Dare strip story (Drawn by Keith Watson and Don Harley) in print, along with how it was done.

The magazine has grown from 24 to 48 pages a time, and is now moving sideways into other science fiction.

"Spaceship Away is evolving all the time," says dedicated editor Rod Barzilay, "and there are more new things already in the pipeline."

To get the magazine delivered to your door, go straight to Spaceship Away Order Page
• More about Ex Astris at

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Mike Nicoll: From behind the drawing board...

... or perhaps that should be the computer screen, this being a "CGI strip". Have to say that I'm not normally one for blogging as I never seem to have enough time to devote to it but, for obvious reasons, I'll try to keep this one up to date!

The question I get asked most often is: "why use CGI for the strip instead of drawing it in the traditional way? Does that mean you can't draw very well?"

Well, the second part of that I will leave for others to judge as there are a few hand-drawn projects of mine due to see the light of day quite soon and you can decide for yourself.
As for the "why...?", I had taught myself how to use CGI software and was very impressed with the results - but they weren't exactly what I hoped for. I have to say right away that I don't profess to be an expert in the area and I know that I use certain software in ways that it wasn't meant to be used but what the hell - it's my party. Also, if you look closely, the strip is not all CGI - there is a hell of a lot of Photoshop/Painter and scanned hand-drawn art in there as well.

Thing is, CGI is far from being the "magic bullet" that popular mythology would have us believe and it's not possible to simply click a few buttons and create an image that looks the way it's meant to - or at least the way I meant it to - so I take the base render and fiddle about with it, adding colour layers, smoothing edges, overlaying cutouts from other renders etc. and that's the way I like to work.

To call Ex Astris a CGI or 3d strip is only half the story - it's a pastiche strip inasmuch as I will use any and all available material to create the look I want. For example, starfields never look very good when I render them - probably my fault for not using the software correctly but if I spent all my time reading "How to..." manuals I'd never get anything done - so I painted a piece of card pure black and spattered white paint across it from a toothbrush which gives a truly random effect, scanned it, knocked out the black and overlaid the remaining white dots on the image - instant starfield! I then add "blobs" of virtual paint, blur, distort and generally mess about with them using filters and add some photo's I took of sunsets/rises (and the odd section of a pic I nicked fron NASA, but please don't tell them!!), merge the whole shebang together and use the resulting image.

I've never created a CGI render which I felt was good enough to use without doing some post-production work and to that extent there's as much hand-created art as there is CGI in Ex Astris.

Why use CGI at all? There are two main reasons:

Firstly it's a matter of speed. I create the art for Ex Astris alone, so if I had to hand-draw a complicated design such as the Armstrong every time it appears in the strip It would take forever. (Before I discovered CGI, I actually built a metre-long model of the ship to photograph and draw from, so I know what I'm talkin' bout dude!)

This way, I have to spend some time creating the original mesh but after that's done I can relax and let the computer do the work whilst I work on the next panel.

Speed is of the essence in strip creation - you can look at magazines like Imagine FX and see pages of CGI-created artwork which looks much better than mine but if you look at the amount of time these artists take to create one single image, albeit a bloody brilliant one, it would take years to create a single comic.

Second reason - because it's there. I'm not being flippant - it's just that if artists only ever used the materials available at the time them we'd still be painting in cow's blood on cave walls. I see the potential in CGI to create a new style of art which I personally like the look of - and at the end of the day that's all I care about because I didn't create Ex Astris as a commercial venture - it was just a hobby that I would work on when I had the time and it wasn't until John Freeman said that he felt it had some potential that I even thought about it that way.

I know there are problems with CGI in creating traditional comic style exaggerated expressions and poses - they just don't look right in CGI -- so if I want that style of strip, I revert to hand-drawn. Ex Astris isn't meant to be a superhero strip, it's more like an adaptation of work by Arthur C. Clarke or Greg Bear, and so far, touch wood, people seem to like the way it looks. Long may it last!!

Okay - out of time as usual - see you in the funny pages!!!

Mike Nicoll

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Secrets of Ceres joins Spaceship Away

Were delighted to report that Secrets of Ceres, the first part of a new Ex Astris strip drawn by Mike Nicoll and written by John Freeman, will feature in the next issue of the Dan Dare-inspired comics magazine Spaceship Away, now at the printers and which editor Rod Barzilay tells us will soon be shipped to subscribers.

Secrets of Ceres is a three part-story set in the Ex Astris universe created by Mike, set some years before the strip available as a free to view comic on ROK Comics and the one-off strip Homecoming, appearing in another independent UK comics title, Bulletproof Comics, which will be available from that publisher's Online Store soon.

Secrets of Ceres is set in the mid 21st Century, at a time when the race to space has been rekindled, borne from both the need for raw materials and a desire to explore. With bases on the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, humankind has truly expanded beyond the confines of home planet Earth... but is this fast expansion driven by other needs, unknown to the general public at large?

By 2040, the major asteroid Ceres has been selected as staging post for the mineral exploitation of the Asteroid Belt, with big corporations paying for the base in return for property rights. By 2050, Ceres base is fully up and running -- moved using giant ram jets into Mars orbit to better exploit its resources.

But beneath the surface of Ceres secrets are about to be uncovered - secrets investigator Sarah Blake may not live to reveal...

Spaceship Away (a three times a year, full colour, glossy magazine) started out as a way to get a newly created 1950’s ‘old Eagle’ style Dan Dare strip story (Drawn by Keith Watson and Don Harley) in print, along with how it was done. However, it didn’t stop there! Soon, other new Dan Dare stories - some serious, some not, and features joined the title, including plans, cutaway drawings, development notes, real science connections, custom-built models, foreign DD, readers' chat-back and background write-ups.

The magazine has grown from 24 to 48 pages over its five year publishing history and is now moving sideways into other SF comicsas well. Of the latest issue's 11 regular strips, five are non-Dan Dare, including Charles Chilton's Journey into Space, Space Girls and Ron Turner's Nick Hazard Interstellar Agent - Mission to Vorga.

More about Spaceship Away at
More about Ex Astris at

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Ex Astris: Episode 6

Mike says he worked darned hard on making "The Neural Chair" look right without looking silly!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Ex Astris: Part Five

I've been involved in some online discussion on creating WebComics over the past few days on a couple of comic creator forums, so I've done a bit of digging around and compiled a brief article for my web site, downthetubes, about Creating WebComics.

It includes some other links I found along the way which may be of interest to would be or indeed existing webcomic creators.

If you've got any thoughts on the subject yourself, please feel free to leave your comments here.

And talking of webcomics, in addition to Ex Astris appearing on ROK Comics, we're also going to be doing a version for the Bulletproof web site, to complement EA's appearance in Bulletproof #2 soon!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Ex Astris Part Four

Trouble below decks aboard the spaceship Armstrong...

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Secrets of Ceres: Character Design

Here's one of Mike's early designs for Sarah Blake, a major character in our three-part story Secrets of Ceres, which will be published later in the year in the brilliant SF comic magazine, Spaceship Away.

The story is set in an earlier time period than the main story running on ROK Comics and as featured in the Homecoming story that will run in Bulletproof #2. Here's the promotional copy for the tale...

By the mid 21st Century, the race to space has been rekindled, borne from both the need for raw materials and a desire to explore. With bases on the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, humankind has truly expanded beyond the confines of home planet Earth... but is this fast expansion driven by other needs, unknown to the general public at large?

By 2040, the major asteroid Ceres had been selected as staging post for the mineral exploitation of the Asteroid Belt, with big corporations paying for the base in return for property rights. By 2050, Ceres base is fully up and running -- moved using giant ram jets into Mars orbit to better exploit its resources.

But beneath the surface of Ceres secrets are about to be uncovered - secrets investigator Sarah Blake may not live to reveal!

John Freeman (writer of The Science Service, and once group editor at Marvel UK) and Mike Nicoll (artist of top adult comic Saffyre Blue) bring their space odyssey Ex Astris to the pages of Spaceship Away, with a tale that sets the scene for a story that spans not just space - but centuries!

Ex Astris Part Three

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Ex Astris Part Two

Ex Astris Part One

• More information on this strip at

About Ex Astris

Ex Astris is a new science fiction adventure created by Mike Nicoll, scripted by John Freeman. The strip will feature in Bulletproof and Spaceship Away later in 2008. It also features on the comics on mobile service ROK Comics.

In the 22nd century it was finally accepted that the Earth was dying due to a combination of factors including global warming, breakdown of the ozone layer, depletion of natural resources and a recent "flipping" of the planet's magnetic fields which will leave the surface open to the solar winds - as scientists now believe happened on Mars.

In response, a global conglomerate funded the construction of the ARK, a city-sized space ship in which is stored genetic samples of all life on Earth, together with the brightest and best of the population - 100,000 of them - all cryogenically frozen. The plan was to launch the ship into a vast eliptical orbit around the solar system, in search of a new habitable planet to colonise.

It is now the 24th century. The Ark is at the end of a 200 year journey, having found a new homeworld for its precious cargo, and is heading back to Earth in order to collect more survivors and transport them to the new world. They have sent a scout ship ahead - THE ARMSTRONG - a military-style ship, about the size of an aircraft carrier.

Her mission is one of reconnaissance - to check the status of Earth and report back to the ARK where decisions will be made about the next stage of the programme.

As the story opens the crew of the "Armstrong" are entering the Solar System on a heading for Earth...