Museum of Classic Sci-Fi

Museum owner and curator Neil Cole (left) with Alex Storer (right) and the museum’s Sentinel Dalek.

I was recently lucky to visit Neil Cole’s Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, tucked away in the rolling hills of the Northumbrian countryside. I was blown away by the sheer amount of screen-used props, costumes and production models in Neil’s collection, and most of all his impressive ‘archive’ of classic Doctor Who items.

While the Doctor Who section makes up the bulk of the museum, you’ll also see a vast range of items from films and series such as the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Alien, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes, Babylon 5, The Tripods, Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica and the Marvel films.

I have reviewed my visit in the new edition of Shoreline of Infinity magazine, which is out today. See the link below for more details!

The Art of A Changed World – revised edition

My free digital publication chronicling the creation of Alice Sabo’s cover art has been updated.

The newly revised edition of The Art of A Changed World, and now includes the artwork for Alice’s recent books, Shattered Landing, Willow’s Run and Entangled, alongside the creative process behind each cover.

Click the cover image below to download The Art of A Changed World (revised edition) in PDF format.

The Light Dreams – radio play roundup

I’d like to say a big thank you to Colin Spencer who has premiered three of my tracks on his show Electrocurated over on Artefaktor Radio over the last three weekends.

Electrocurated show #151 included the title track from The Ministry of Machine Building played in it’s eight-minute entirety; show #152 featured Undisturbed (also from Ministry) as the penultimate track and this weekend, show #153 saw the exclusive first airing of Glacier Heart, my first track with vocalist Ren Faye (we’re currently working on more material for an EP release; watch this space…).

From classics to underground acts and emerging artists, Colin’s show brings together a vibrant mix of electronic music including synth pop, synth wave, instrumentals and dance/trance. I couldn’t ask for my music to be in better company.

The Ministry of Machine Building can be found on major streaming platforms and is available for download on Bandcamp.

Blackpool Revisited – artist interviews

Every artist has their own sources of inspiration. As a science fiction artist, I have always cited names from that iconic era of space and sci-fi art in the 1970s and 80s as a major influence, which captivated me from a young age. But as an illustrator and Doctor Who fan, I have always adored the very visual side of the show – the book covers, toy packaging, posters, etc – you name it. The various visions of the show as depicted by numerous artists over the years clearly had a profound effect on me.

For one of my contributions to the upcoming Blackpool Revisited book, I wanted to talk to some of the artists associated with the show, in particular those with a connection to the Blackpool exhibition.

Andrew Skilleter is arguably one of the best-known names in Doctor Who circles and is regarded the leading artist of the show in the 1980s and beyond. What I’ve always loved about Andrew’s work is his use of colour and texture; his shading and reflections on the metallic surfaces of Daleks and Cybermen or the slimy, lumpy reptilian visage of a Sea Devil – he captured these things perfectly and this really made his artwork so atmospheric. I still remember getting his 1986 Doctor Who calendar, which remained on my bedroom wall long after the year had passed. Although I was always excited to see what the following month’s artwork would be, there was always a reluctance to have to turn the previous page over! His work featured heavily in the exhibition shop, on numerous pieces of merchandise or book covers, and the 1985 season poster.

Leafing through his 1995 book Blacklight, it occurred to me, to get in touch and see if he would be willing to contribute to the project. I never thought I would find myself interviewing Andrew, and that has been such a pleasure, and I’ve rediscovered his work all over again. 

Andrew’s interview took us back over a long and illustrious career, which produced some of the best-known Doctor Who pieces by anyone – and he’s still at it today.

Andrew Skilleter’s Blacklight book

All that remains of the Dalek t-shirt that I bought at the exhibition in 1985, is the printed front section, which at some point, I had cut out and stuck in a photo album. Fortunately, I still have it – though it has clearly seen better days. But as a seven-year-old, I loved that t-shirt. I wore my Daleks with pride, and really adored the illustration on it. I no doubt attempted top copy it countless times, as I learned to draw Daleks.

The Blackpool and Longleat exhibitions sold three specially designed t-shirts, featuring the Daleks, the Cybermen and Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor. Looking at the remains of my own t-shirt recently, I noticed the artist’s signature – Rod Vass.

I thought it was time to talk to Rod about that t-shirt. Tracking him down was surprisingly easy. However, I thought I was going to find a jobbing illustrator, whereas it turned out Rod was one half of the company Imagineering Ltd, to whom the BBC subcontracted prop and costume building both for the television series and the exhibitions. Fantastic!

Beyond just the three t-shirts, Imagineering Ltd had also produced all manner of merchandise for the exhibitions, as well as replica latex masks, as regularly advertised by The Movie Store in the 1980s. Rod still works in film and TV through his company Armordillo, which produces armour, costumes and sets. If you’ve seen Gladiator, then you’ve seen his work in action.

Rod was generous with his time and responses, especially given that I’m asking him about work from around 40 years ago, that he has long since moved on from.

All that remains of my 1980s Doctor Who exhibition t-shirt, illustrated by Rod Vass

One of the other items I bought from the Blackpool exhibition was the most amazing poster of a cutaway Dalek – a dramatic painting of a Dalek before a burning cityscape, but with all of its workings on show. That piece of artwork fascinated me, due to the intricacy and detail of the circuitry, machinery, wires and tubes all crammed inside the Dalek, as well as the bubbling, pulsating Kaled mutant housed in the top section. I remember comparing this poster with the drawing of a similar Dalek anatomy in the Doctor Who Technical Manual.

Digging the poster out, I noticed a name in the credits at the bottom – Graham Potts. But despite Google’s best efforts, no website for Graham turned up. Nothing on Facebook either and only a brief reference to him in Telos Publishing’s Target book. I started to fear he may no longer be with us.

As a last resort, I tried searching on LinkedIn, and found a listing for an illustrator by that name, but with little other information. One private message later and as luck would have it, I’d found the right Graham Potts.

Graham only had a brief involvement in the Doctor Who world, having illustrated a few pieces of cover art including the novelisation of The Celestial Toymaker and Peter Haining’s popular 1983 book, A Celebration. Again, I was asking Graham about a piece of work from 36 years ago, but he happily obliged, and it was great to hear more about the background to that piece and his way of working back then.

Target books’ 1985 Dalek poster, illustrated by Graham Potts

As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed talking to other artists, and it is especially rewarding to be able to speak with those whose work inspired me. I can’t thank Andrew, Rod and Graham enough for their time, generosity and interest in the project.

All of these conversations have not only left me feeling enriched and inspired, but they’re absolutely fantastic contributions to the book.

Blackpool Revisited will be available to download for free from https://blackpoolremembered7485.wordpress.com on Saturday 28th August.

Who, Where & When – revised edition

Following my involvement with Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, I have given my 2011 Doctor Who ebook, Who, Where & When a short, personal account of growing up with the show in the 1980s and beyond.

I’ve given the front cover an overhaul with some recent illustrations and the existing articles have undergone some minor edits where needed. However bringing the book up to date, are four new pages at the end, which I hope you enjoy.

Download Who, Where & When for free at sevenzero.net

Cover art: Gardens of Earth

Gardens of Earth by Mark Iles is the first book of The Sundering Chronicles, coming soon from Elsewhen Press. 

Elsewhen contacted me to illustrate the cover, as they knew it would be a good match for my style, having worked together on several previous occasions. Gardens of Earth literally spans several genres – the story tackles alien war, a future that may be considered either dystopian or utopian, a protagonist dealing with personal demons, the remnants of Earth’s inhabitants now living in a sparse society under the watchful eye of the strange plant-like Spooks, and returning human colonists intent on reclaiming the Earth.

While you might primarily consider Gardens of Earth to be a science fiction novel, elements of myth and magic fantasy are also present. So how do you represent all this in a single cover image?

You don’t even try! A cluttered book cover with too many elements fighting for attention never looks good. We knew this of course, so the challenge for this cover was to come up with an image that would set an overall tone for the book and draw the reader in via a single snapshot.

An email conversation between myself, Mark and Elsewhen resulted in a couple of concepts being discussed. The first was the view of a greener Earth with some of the Spooks closing in. We also looked at the idea of our protagonist and female humanoid companion staring out over a vista of forestry and simple human settlements, again with the Spooks looming on the horizon.

Initial concept sketches for Gardens of Earth

I worked up rough sketches for both, and we agreed the version showing the two figures was the right approach – however Mark wanted to see a city backdrop rather than forestry. Cityscapes have long been a recurring theme in my artwork, so it was a concept I was immediately comfortable with. 

Mark had also gone over some specific, minor details – such as the insigia we see on the female’s left shoulder or the pilot’s commando knife at thigh level. Their coveralls were also to be dark green, which for me, set the colour palette for the overall scene. I wanted some atmospheric, hazy light that could be either sunset or sunrise, and chose a palette of turquoise through to yellow – the green tones in between also linked back to the greener world featured in parts of the story.

The team at Elsewhen had already chosen a typeface for the series, so we worked together to agree on the most effective layout. I suggested having the title in a dark blue to contrast the illustration but also match the darkest colours present – this little touch glued it all together. My original illustration extended beyond the cover format, so we were able to extend it around the spine and on to the back of the book.

Gardens of Earth is available to pre-order as an eBook on 6th August, and will be out in paperback in October. Keep an eye on the Elsewhen Press website or social media pages for further details!

Talking cover design

I’m pleased to have a guest blog interview over on the Just Write Right website, about cover art and design, my creative process and working with self-publishing authors.

https://justwriteright.co.uk/2021/07/26/talking-cover-design/

Best of British Science Fiction 2020

The Best of British Science Fiction 2020 anthology from NewCon Press, edited by Donna Scott, is due for release on 27th July and can be pre-ordered from the NewCon Press website, in paperback and limited edition signed hardback formats.

I am delighted to see my digital painting Daybreak featured as the cover to this collection, which genuinely contains an illustrious selection of science fiction writers.

Daybreak is one of my personal favourite pieces, so it is particularly rewarding to have it used on this anthology.

I often create artwork with the possibility of cover licensing in mind, but this didn’t happen to be one of them – it’s a landscape piece for a start. But when Ian Whates at NewCon Press sent over the proofs of the cover, I was pleasantly surprised at how well Daybreak lent itself to cover art – particularly on the hardback format, where the solid dark blue perfectly wraps itself around the dust jacket. I couldn’t wish for it to have a better home.

Track by track: The Ministry of Machine Building

As The Ministry of Machine Building is now available on Bandcamp, Spotify and Apple Music, here’s a quick run through of my initial thoughts behind each track…

Aparition Haze

I think of this piece like the opening titles to a film or series. The imagery in my mind was a mysterious city shrouded in a dark smog, under a veil of perpetual nightshade. This is the start of our journey into a mechanical underworld…

The Ministry of Machine Building

The epic title track was the first piece I composed for the project; a long and evolving track that takes you on a frenetic tour of The Ministry, from crashing steelworks and forges to production lines, this is where the action happens. I was imagining a huge, complex hive of non-stop industrial activity, computing, assembly and testing The . workers continually clock on and off their shifts as they work to build the machines.

Nightwatch

After such a dense and complex track comes a little respite, and a welcome gasp of night air. Part of the album concept was to follows the life of one of the workers, from days on end in the darkness of The Ministry to moments of contemplation while on the ‘night watch’. 

Assembly

As the title suggests, this is the first of several tracks which explore what is being created in the ominous depths of this industrial city. Much of this album is heavy; there are often two or even three drum tracks layered up to create a robotic, mechanical movement. Part of the challenge musically was to also create a catchy piece of electronica; something with groove and a solid beat.

The Hall of Machines

This track was probably the most diccifult to make and I worked through several iterations of it before it started to feel right. My original idea was for it to be quite a sparse, minimal composition with no or little drums, but – as is often the case – it found its own way, drifting from that starting point, although echoes of that idea can still be heard in the intro and outro. In terms of the concept, this is really taking the listener on a journey through the giant central hall of The Ministry, where the machines reside, awaiting activation and instruction.

Insomnia

I wanted to create a piece with a slightly delerious, dreamy atmosphere. Even though the work shift is over, sleep doesn’t come easily, and we find ourselves wandering the city streets from the darkest night to the early hours of morning.

Modularity

The follow-up to Assembly in some ways, this is the album’s heaviest and most powerful track. Here, we travel through the networks – physical and virtual – of The Ministry; the electronic networks of the computer brain and creation of artificial intelligence.

Escape Plan

The underlying plot in so many classic science fiction stories is the notion of escape; those dreams of leaving that will one day be fulfilled, in a frantic and tense adventure in face of all odds. This was an older demo track that was left unfinished – this provided a solid framework on which to build an energetic, groove-based track.

Reactor

I wanted the album to culminate in a dark and dramatic finalé. What is the reactor, or what – or whom – is reacting? This could be our protagonist’s reaction to his live enslaved by The Ministry – reaching breaking point and working to bring the whole thing crashing down… or perhaps this is the sound of the reactor itself; the deadly molten core and beating heart of The Ministry.

Undiscovered

A kind of epilogue. Fast forward many years, and The Ministry of Machine Building is no more; a relic of the past, consigned to history. But perhaps one day the old site will be unearthed. Still there after all this time. The machinery abandoned and rusted, the Hall of Machines a derilict shell. Or is it? Geiger counters crackle, and if you listen closely, what is that low drone, emitting from below the surface?