The long and winding road…

Development hell.

Aside from being one of my favourite pages in SFX back in the pre-internet days, it’s also a phrase I’d never really given much thought to until recently. Because, for nearly three years, that was exactly where Vworp Vworp! was stranded. And an odd place it is too, full of whispers, misery, false dawns and rumour. But then again, without all that time spent languishing in development hell and the accompanying accidents encountered along the way, I honestly believe we’d never have come up with something quite so unique either.

Here’s how it worked. Like Colin, I’d started out in Doctor Who fanzines (in my case, on Black Scrolls alongside Steve Preston), a modest success which ran for eight issues between 1993 and 2005. I loved Black Scrolls and met so many great and talented people along the way, I honestly thought it would never end. Which, of course it did when Steve tired of the colossal task involved in designing and editing. However, like the zine equivalent of Wall-E, it took me some time to realise this fact as I diligently went about collecting material, interviews and other bits and bobs for an Issue 9 that would never come.

Not that I hadn’t kept busy either. By 2006 I’d got pretty immersed in my next project, The Lass O’Gowrie, which is where I met the chaps from Redeye (a fine comics fanzine) who, knowing my time at the coalface with Black Scrolls, pitched me the idea of collaborating on a special edition of Redeye looking at the Doctor Who comic strips. Just the project for me, I thought! So we started the process of planning, plotting and generally hyping ourselves up into a such a rude frenzy that by the time we’d finished, we were planning not a fanzine but a proper book on the subject (little knowing, of course that the infinitely more qualified Paul Scoones was planning exactly such a project at almost exactly the same time as us, although in his case with the willpower to actually do it!). So, amidst several ale-filled meetings in the Snug of the Lass chapters were debated and listed out (for those interested in such things, we were going to do an About Time variant, with plenty of opinions and a detailed focus on a single tale per Doctor. Wildly ambitious!), tasks divvied up and naturally, collections of DWM all streamlined and collated. We were ready to go. Except, of course nothing actually happened.

One of several wise things I’ve learned off Dez Skinn during the long gestation of this project is ‘don’t talk, just do’. In other words, only talk about things when you actually have something to show. And that was the problem, for all the talk, no-one ever wrote anything! Not one word (as an aside, the same fate befell another planned underground fanzine that briefly reared its head during 2006 – Alt Universe, that we were all going to write under pseudonyms until someone pointed out how damaging this may be for the two graphic artists on the team if word got out, who coincidentally were also working on official Who commissions at the same time).

So the meetings get more awkward, the plans get scaled back and scaled back to eventually nothing. 2007 rolls into 2008, and apart from a legendary interview with Ade Salmon in the Snug and a chat with Alan Barnes, nothing really advances so Vworp Vworp! goes back to sleep for another year, to be replaced by – yes you’ve guessed it, the legendary Black Scrolls #9. Yes, Steve almost changes his mind when I point out I’ve got a host of interviews and other material already banked. Things like a fantastic and varied chat with Paul Cornell on Human Nature (which really does deserve to see the light of day, if only for the rich discussion of religious iconography in the show and a fascinating insight into RTD’s attitude to faith), a warts-and-all interview with Anneke Wills (that amongst other things, outed Hartnell as a tightwad in the pub), a Heat-style chat with Sophie Aldred (that eventually makes it’s way into Shooty Dog Thing), a brilliant chat on Life on Mars with Matthew Graham (which finally escaped, over at Kasterborous) and more Sol 3 silliness. Anthony Dry maps out a marvellous cover, Steve does a first draft of Anneke Wills and everything looks good for approximately six weeks before everything fizzles out inexplicably.

So with three projects simultaneously marooned in development hell (or let’s be frank, stone cold dead), it is with great surprise that I agree in the summer of 2008 to pick the gauntlet of Vworp Vworp! back up, only this time as a one-off fanzine. So, given the material with Ade already in the can, I spend a very pleasant day or two by the pool mapping out something for the Cybermen section. More meetings follow, with lots of ‘ooohs and ahhhs’. We even talk about getting the fanzine ready a few months later for a one day pubcon all about the Who comics at the Lass O’Gowrie to coincide with the Manchester Literary Festival in October. Four months I think, easy. All I need is a designer and a bit more content!

So off to Outpost Gallifrey I go, boldly announcing both our inaugural pubcon (which went ahead to fair acclaim – check out this link) and, completely forgetting Skinn’s Law of ‘do, don’t tell’, a brilliant new fanzine to go with the day. Looking back, I really must have begun to believe my own hype as despite having only three months to go, no designer onboard and only enough content for 50% of a 32-page publication, I felt confident of success. I even found a willing designer over at Outpost Gallifrey (who I’m delighted to say has made the leap into proper, paid official Who commissions – so congratulations and apologies for what I put you through in equal measures, Iain!) willing to work to such a crazily short timescale, and despite all this, missed the target horribly.

You also learn that both events and time are the real mortal enemy. In this case, I’d totally underestimated how much effort goes into organising a con as well as foolishly starting a Masters in Planning to reignite my consulting career as well as keeping a pub on the rails. I like to be busy, you see. So the con comes and goes and the fanzine idles in the workshop, again.

2009 arrives, but like an itch I can’t get to – Vworp Vworp! nags away at me. Some of the non-comics material begins to escape via Kasterborous and Shooty Dog Thing, which helps but doesn’t hit the spot either. So, in an attempt to soothe this constant, nagging itch, I begin to pick away at it. So, John Daiker finishes off the Master strip in the midst of an economic meltdown in North Dakota, Dez Skinn chats the weekly and Iain and I try to get going again with designing out and completing section. But the moment has gone, and with Iain then moving on from the project having plenty of other things on his plate, it becomes quickly clear something new is going to be required.

And with this dawning realisation, comes the first bit of real luck the project has enjoyed for some time. As Colin freely mentions over on his entry, we first got in touch over on the old OG to discuss a little paid job involving flyers and logos for the Lass O’Gowrie. And having found him so refreshing to work with, as well as tough and frank when needed (and yes Colin, with hindsight it would have been madness to do 1000 flyers advertising business meeting hire of the Salmon Rooms featuring Morgus and Krau Timmin….), I just felt that here was the divining force the project really needed. So, with the offer accepted be started pinging emails around and the project rolled and rolled and rolled.

I was fascinated to read Colin freely admitting he was previously more of a lone wolf on these projects, as to my mind I’ve never worked with someone more suited to the shared creative endeavour. Apart from the fact that the previous three years had brutally taught me that dragging this load of coal up the hill was at least a two man job, if we were to avoid it becoming a rerun of Sisyphus and his wretched ball (from Greek myth, or for the more classically minded amongst you, Ulysses 31), we just clicked, saving the project in the process. Key to it all was communication and, above all, trust. I didn’t see the finished articles for ‘Who Cares!’ and ‘Time Toons’ until relatively late, but they were spot on. No, better than that – perfect. And when, all of a sudden, we were chatting with our heroes about the comics that, for them, were at the beginning of long and distinguished careers – Dave Gibbons, Pat Mills, Dave Lloyd, Steve Moore (held over for Vol 2, it’s a cracker!), Dez Skinn – you begin to feel this is a project that has found its feet.

Summer 2009 becomes a blur. I’m finding it increasingly hard to concentrate on my thesis (I mean, who’s got more chance of holding my attention, ‘The 24 hour city is a myth [discuss]‘, or tales of Dez Skinn and the drinks cabinet hi-jinks at Marvel towers), but grind on nevertheless. Draft layouts zip round, design touches come and go. It’s becoming a correspondence, almost intimate like something out of Les Liasons Dangereux (although we never meet or even speak on the phone). The work becomes our shared obsession. Increasingly I come to realise that Colin is doing far more than designing this work of art. He’s shaping it as co-editor, so that’s what we agree he should become. And then, in a touch of genius, Colin suggests we celebrate not only the strips but the Doctor Who Magazine itself. Genius. This ultimate piece of merchandise, the thing that all of us have bought at one time or the other and for a very long time, the solitary light in the darkness for Who fans deserves something on the 30th anniversary in October 2009 (ooops, we nearly made it though).

And the amazing thing is, how pleasant and amicable things have been. Not to say there’s not been debate, far from it. But I can honestly say the decisions made have been better for it. It probably also tells me I’m better working with others, which bodes well for Vol 2!

So, here’s to Vworp Vworp!. The magazine that, by all accounts, should not exist and yet is undoubtedly better for the hell we’ve been through to get it to you.

2 comments on “The long and winding road…

  1. Mike Liddle on said:

    Any idea when we’e likely to see Volume 2? I enjoyed Volume 1!

  2. Pingback: Sofie krau | Alleycats

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