Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mega City Book Club 3: The Cursed Earth

Jim Moon from the fabulous Hypnobobs podcast is my guest to discuss the first true mega epic of Judge Dredd's history. Mutants, killer rats, dinosaurs, zombie robots, and spoilers abound.

The Cursed Earth (Uncensored) is available from the 2000AD online store.

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All comments and suggestions gratefully received. Please get in touch if you would like to be a guest on the show.

Download here
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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Adventures in podcasting: 4

Counting the cost

Let's face it podcasting is not cheap. Only a small minority of all the 'casts out there actually generate income. I knew right from the start that Mega City Book Club was going to cost money, it is a passion project because it's fun to talk about the things you enjoy with like minded people. Find the things that make you happy and do them, that's what the psychologists tell us. Good advice.

My running total for spend on domains, hosting, and various bits of hardware and software is just over £300, but I reckon that could have been reduced to at least half that amount or even closer to £100 for just a Yeti and the domain and hosting, Owning the domain is nice but even that could be dumped for something like "". Luckily I can afford a few extras.

I've decided that my podcast won't be looking for freebies or sponsorship, and I won't be running adverts, or asking listeners for donations.This is a go it alone type project. Of course there is my justgiving page for cancer research UK but that is just there and hasn't really attracted any donations from the podcast yet. We'll see how that goes.

But the major expense for a book club show has to be buying the books. I've already exceeded the space on my 2000AD shelf and there are more volumes on the way. The best way to keep up with what has been picked so far is on the Facebook page. I have a lot of this in digital through the 2000AD apple app but I am finding it is easier to make notes from hard copy editions so there has been a certain amount of double dipping. The good news is that I now have at least 15 books to read and then set up a recording date with my guest, so stay tuned. I will be in touch in the coming months.

The third episode with Jim Moon discussing the Cursed Earth will be out next week, then I will be probably be sticking to a four week release schedule after that. We'll discover how that goes as well.

Stay tuned and thank you for your attention so far.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Spaceman Spiff is going down!

The current forum short story theme is the Dredd epic to end all epics: The Apocalypse War. Here I have paraphrased the title of the first chapter of Alan Moore's revamp of Marvelman way back in Warrior magazine #1. I like this story much better than my last one but it's definitely time for me to stop the last line name reveal gimmick.

 A Dream of Falling

I dream about falling a lot. Not that unusual, apparently 95% of people regularly dream about falling, or wake suddenly with that jolt like feeling. That's called a myoclonic jerk, I read it in a textbook. You might not think Judges get time for reading but we have at least an hour a day of personal time depending on our duty roster.

Most of my sector house use it catching up on sleep, or they eat something more exciting then the nutri-packs the service droids provide. Plus there's gym time and while you're sweating it out on one of the cardios you catch up on the latest judicial updates, or review crime reports for your beat. And if you keep on top of that stuff the system allows you some personal reading material. I read psychology textbooks, I like them. They help me understand the jerks, both the myoclonic variety and the ones on the street, the perps who keep us so busy the rest of the time.

The academy techs tell us we don't dream in the sleep machines but they're wrong. We dream, the psych books say if you don't then you go crazy and most Judges keep it together better than the average Jack or Jill out there in the blocks. I reckon we all dream in the machines, but most don't remember theirs. I remember mine and I remember falling ... And I hear someone shouting? Calling to me. Weird.

Falling, the wind rushing past, that feeling that you're staying in one place and the ground is rushing towards you, the anticipation of an impact that never seems to come. The psychologists say it's natural human anxiety manifesting in our subconscious minds. The sense that we are on this unknowable rock hurtling through space, that life happens around us while we are trying to decide what to do, a feeling of lack of control ... What are they shouting?

I'm a Judge, I have plenty of control, it's been drummed into me since I was five. Sure there's uncertainty out there but we are the order in the chaos, we know right from wrong, we know what's going on, we make a difference, we do the things that have to be done.

I dream about falling a lot ... Did I say that already? Wind's howling by me now. I must have reached terminal velocity. Terminal?

Maybe this is a dream? It's different to usual. Longer and stranger.

Hypoxia can cause that. Another fact from the textbooks, the hypoxic brain dreams, that's why you get stories about drowning people seeing their life flashing before them. The dying mind fractures.

I still hear someone calling. What's that? "Sou..." South? No, that's not it. What is that word?

My mind is fractured, I've done something, I know I have, I hope it was the right thing. What's that word? I think it's a name.


I    think    that    might    have    been     me.

Countdown to comedy

Here's a couple more recent entries into the 2000AD forum short story competition. This one was for a television themed contest. I'm not entirely happy with it and it didn't trouble the scorers. I still can't resist the last line reveal of a well known 2000AD character.

Down for the Count

The studio lights glared down on the simple set, four desks, a letter board, and the clock that gave the show its name. The red light lit up on the Tri-D camera as the floor manager silently counted down from five and then pointed at the host.

"Welcome back to the world's longest running quiz show, I'm Nat Bunderson. Just before the break the delightful Delilah had picked nine tricky letters for our contestants, let's see what they made of them. First of all our defending champion, Reg Trunion. How many, Reg?"

"Only five I'm afraid, POLKAS, like the dance."

"Very musical, Reg. And our challenger, Jam Bepy?"

"Nine, APOKALIPS, as in the war."

"That's rather an unusual spelling, we better go over to dictionary corner. What do you make of that, OED-1?

"[Unusual but accepted spelling variant. 20th century usage. Judgement = allowed]"

"Another nine pointer, Jam, continuing the strange spelling from your first round winner of Nekroplis?"

"Just dumb luck, Nat"

"Let's see if that luck lasts. Onto round three and back to our lovely lady of letters. What have you get for our wordsmiths, Delilah."

"Here they come from the random letter generator.


Another strange selection, Nat."

"Strange and almost explosive, Delilah. OK, contestants, your thirty seconds start now!"

The single hand on the clock began to move as the familiar music faded in. Reg Trunion was scribbling furiously but Jam Bepy seemed to be struggling with his pencil. Their deliberations were suddenly interrupted as the floor manager ran on to the set waving her arms and shouting loudly.

"Bomb! There's a bomb in the clock! Clear the set now. Oh Grud, someone stop the countdown!"

The explosion ripped through the studio, destroying the three desks nearest the clock, and the dictionary computer. As the smoke cleared the production crew looked on appalled at the devastation. Both presenters, the floor manager and one of the contestants were dead. Only Bepy had survived, shielded from the blast as he scrambled under the steel desk to retrieve his dropped pencil.

A production assistant with a clipboard and a headset strode through the carnage issuing instructions to summon paramedics and judges. She took the dazed Bepy by his elbow and led him away from the mayhem.

"This way, sir, we'll make you comfy in the green room. I expect the judges will want a statement later, then I'll need you to sign a release form and talk about you coming back for next week's show."

"Next week? I sort of planned on this being a one off performance. Will there be another show?"

"Of course there will. C4 won't want to break the streak. If Chaos day can't stop us then neither will this. The show must go on and you'll be back as defending champion."

"Champion? I do like the sound of that. Can I think about it?"

"Of course. For now I'll just put you down as a definite maybe."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Adventures in podcasting: 3

By this stage I had four episodes recorded and edited. I had turned them into mp3 files using Audacity and used a program called ID3 editor to edit the metadata tags on each episode. Thankfully it was a pretty straight forward job to create individual artwork for each episode and attach that to the mp3s with the editor so that you see something like this when the episode is playing in your mobile podcatcher.
The next job was finding somewhere to host the files online so that iTunes and other podcatchers can find and download them. Fortunately Brian had plenty of spare space and bandwidth on the Dreamhost server he uses for British Invaders so I was able to share this and have my own folders on the server and use a simple program called WinSCP to upload the files just by dragging and dropping.

I originally intended to use this blog to publish the episodes and build the feed from, and in fact the first episode was posted here. However I realised it was so easy to create a blogsite called that I might as well give the podcast its own dedicated page. That means I can still post odd rambling stuff here without clogging up the podcast feed, although I will still be posting the episodes here as well.

Reading articles about podcast feeds gave me the general feeling that a lot of this stuff would be easier with a wordpress site instead of blogger but this page pointed me in the right direction. First of all I needed to set the blog to accept enclosure links, this means that blog posts can include mp3 files hidden within them. This is just a case of ticking a box on the settings page as described here, once that was done I created the post for the first episode and added the link to my mp3 file on the Dreamhost server.

I also wanted an audio player in the episode posting and this meant adding another bit of html to the page which I copied from this site here so that a simple player would appear at the bottom of the posts like this.

Then all that was needed was to tag each episode post with the label 'podcast' and I was ready to build the feed which I would submit to iTunes. Using the links from the pages above told me that the blog podcast feed would be:

Almost there but there were a few more bits and pieces to add to make it suitable for iTunes. I used google's feed creation service Feedburner to do the final tinkering. I've read various articles suggesting google might scrap feedburner at some point and that I should be using a service called Blubrry, but these warnings mainly come from Blubrry themselves and their service only seems to integrate with wordpress sites at the moment so I have gone with feedburner.

The feedburner control panel let me add a brief description of the podcast and my logo artwork. For iTunes this needs to be a 3000 x 3000 pixel image at 72dpi. More details about iTunes and image files here. Once done this produced the final podcast feed:

All that remained was to go to the iTunes connect service and submit this feed. You need an apple ID to sign in with and then they have their podcast review process before it becomes available in the iTunes store. I got an email from apple telling me they were reviewing the podcast and then a few days later I found that it was showing up in iTunes searches and I was able to start publicising the link to the whole world. I still haven't received an email confirming that my podcast was approved but it's out there in the wild now and people can find it with their podcatchers.

Adventures in podcasting: 2

Way back when I was just filling in as a guest host I was using a gaming headset to record for British Invaders. Once my guest spot became a regular deal I upgraded to a nice Blue Yeti usb microphone which has been OK so far. I use the free software Audacity to record my end of our discussions and then upload a wav file to Brian who stitches the two halves together and does all the editing magic.

It's a pretty good system that has worked well for us so far, but for Mega City Book Club I have a revolving panel of guests to record and obviously I am dependent on whatever kit they have or can lay their hands on. I'm using Call Burner for Skype which records both ends of our conversations as two separate wav files. So far I have carried on using audacity to edit the first four episodes but I am now learning how to use Sound Forge 10 as I strive for a more professional result.

I have also used audacity to turn my edited audio into the final mp3 files. I was advised by a couple of people that iTunes does a better job of this but strangely my results seem to have a lower quality than I wanted so I'm sticking with audacity until I master Sound Forge.

There's nothing like starting a podcast to send you to amazon to upgrade your kit and a recent spending spree has produced a Shure SV100 and a Focusrite Scarlett interface to connect it to my computer. My office is starting to look like a recording studio. I've also bought a Tascam digital recorder to use when I'm out and about. I used it to record episode four with Tony Richards which we did upstairs in a pub in central London.

Although the pub cast may sound a little rough we will see whether my new kit and software helps my future episodes sound more professional.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Adventures in podcasting: 1

It's been an exciting few weeks as I've discovered the basics of publishing my own podcast. I thought I would record some notes here as an aide memoir, and possibly as tips for anyone considering taking the plunge themselves.

First of all I have to acknowledge the help and inspiration of Brian Doob who encouraged and inspired me to start a comics cast. Brian is the driving force behind the British Invaders podcast that we do about British television genre television, he is also an audio expert and guided me through some of the basics of recording and editing, of which more in a later post.

I had been thinking of doing a 2000AD podcast for a while. With the ECBT2000AD cast covering individual progs and megazines I felt that the obvious gap in the market would be to do collected editions, which would allow me to cover stories from the full 39 year history of the comic. In a way it echoes the thematic intent of the volumes currently being published by the Hachette partworks Mega Collection. Brian suggested I could tie this in to my fundraising efforts from getting comics signed at convention and then selling them on eBay for cancer research UK.

My working title for the podcast was Trading Places which sounds daft now and completely non specific. Fortunately I woke up one morning with Mega City Book Club in my head, I liked the way it combined four words all of four letters each, it was catchy and seemed to work nicely. Brian suggested I register it as a domain name. There are several sites offering registration and all sorts of extras as well. I chose Hover and was able to secure using a discount coupon code from another podcast I listen to, A Cast of Kings. My domain name forwards to the podcast blog site, and after fiddling around with the settings on Hover I learnt that ticking the stealth redirection box meant that it still shows in the address bar when your browser gets there.

So I had a title and a domain name, the next thing was to open up Photoshop and design a logo. I spent a lot of time working on a design based on the space spinner free gift attached to the very first issue of 2000AD, but it was difficult to get good quality images of the original toy to play with. The resulting logo ended up looking decidedly amateurish.
I didn't like this at all and was considering paying an online design company when a random google search for Judge Dredd's law book brought up this prop from the much maligned Stallone 1995 movie.
As luck would have it the google images were from none other than Judge John Burdis' own Cellar of Dredd blog although sadly the pictures were not quite good enough to work with in photoshop. So a quick visit to eBay and I soon had my own copy of the book on its way from Hong Kong. It's an odd little notebook with mega city one legal codes printed on the bottom of the pages. Even with my own copy getting a decent photo of the front cover with equal lighting on all the shiny gold lettering was tricky but after a lot of fiddly photoshop manipulation I was able to produce the logo you can see at the top of this post and it looks much more professional in iTunes and on my phone podcatcher.

Next up will be some details of recording and editing before I get on to the complications of preparing individual episodes for publication, and the tricky business of getting a feed and submitting it to iTunes.

Mega City Book Club 2: America

I'm joined by the irrepressible Pete Wells from the 2000AD Covers Uncovered blog to discuss one of the definitive Dredd tales: America. We talk about the original story and the two sequels, Fading of the Light and Cadet. Please note there are spoilers for all three chapters and you should really read these great stories before listening.

The Complete America can be purchased from the 2000AD online store.

All comments and suggestions gratefully received. Please get in touch if you would like to be a guest on the show.

Download here
Right click and choose save link as to download to your computer.