There's a new sci-fi and telefantasy magazine out on the newsstands in Britain called DeathRay. It's the brainchild of Matt Bielby, a wonderfully talented editor with a long list of award-winning magazines to his credit. I first encountered Matt in 1995 when he was launch editor for SFX, a sci-fi magazine that dragged the British genre publications market kicking and screaming towards the new millennium. Twelve years on he's set up his own company, Blackfish Publishing, and DeathRay is its first title.
I heard about DeathRay from John Ainsworth at Big Finish, who sang the praises of an prototype issue he'd seen. As a freelancer, I'm always looking for potential clients and contacts - ideally, people you already know and feel you can trust. Publishing is a surprisingly small world and word of mouth is so important. Treat people with respect and they'll tell others. Much them about and everybody knows about it. Having been impressed with Matt before, I got in touch and offered my services.
Happily, DeathRay was looking for freelance scribes, so I pitched several features and got one accepted. It was a look at the science fiction and fantasy pilots being considered by American networks for the new 2007-2008 season. I did my research, wrote the piece and - hey presto - I'd joined the ranks of contributors to the first issue of DeathRay. But the magazine's editorial team [it's not like Matt does everything himself, there's a whole posse of people putting the magazine together] needed a way to illustrate the article.
US pilots are kept under wraps until they get a decision on being picked up or not. Those thaat get a commission are unveiled in LA this month. Those that don't might turn up on cable TV or DVD eventually. A few will get leaked to places like YouTube. When that happens, it's the kiss of death for the pilot getting an official release. [I believe such a fate befall the TV pilot for Warren Ellis's excellent comic book series Global Frequency, but I could be mistaken.] Finding photos from pilots before they go public isn't easy.
DeathRay asked me for a list of potential illustrators that could create a montage image to accompany my article. Seventeen years of working in comics have their uses, and this was one of them. I suggested a handful of artists I knew could do great work, were reliable and might just be available. Top of the list was Roger Langridge, a expatriate Kiwi like me and a top cartoonist.
Despite the fact we're both from New Zealand, we first met in London during the early 1990s. Roger came to the UK looking for work and I was working at the newly launched Judge Dredd Megazine. Then editor Steve MacManus wanted a one-page comedy strip in the comic, to add a different flavour to its mix of material, and Roger was the perfect choice of artist. Somehow I inveigled my way into the mix and became writer for the strip, despite having no previous experience in scripting comics or comedy.
The result was a quirky little series called The Straitjacket Fits. I quickly discovered writing one-page gag strips wasn't my forte, so persuaded Steve to let me have more and more pages each issue. The story spiralled away into a bizarre exercise in fourth wall demolition and obscure references to New Zealand pop culture. Everything that was good about the strip was due to Roger. His art was stunning, polished and witty - as always. He took my secondhand ideas and brought them to life, adding so much more than I'd ever envisaged. It showed me how little I knew about writing for comics, and how productive the collaboration between writer and artist can be.
Long story short, Roger's gone on to a long and fittingly distinguished career. Happily, DeathRay chose him to illustrate my article. The first issue's now on sale, and Roger's posted the image [see above] up on his blog. Centre of attention is the new remake of The Bionic Woman, starring British actress Michelle Ryan from EastEnders. News from across the Atlantic is that the show's been picked up for a season to launch this autumn.
In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than picking up the first issue of DeathRay. It's chockful of articles, wit and imagination - and a few thousand words from me.