The process of exploring twenty years of my past work, much of it originally seen by only a handful of people, has been scary and exhilarating in equal measure. It was scary on two counts, actually - both because of the sheer volume of stuff I uncovered and because I feared discovering that I wasn't as funny as I used to be. But I don't think that's true - like a fine wine, I've just matured (a little). What was exhilarating about it was the sheer thrill of rediscovery. It might not be as culturally significant as the early Hans Christian Andersen story found this week, but I really got a buzz from searching old notebooks, folders and hard drives to uncover my own lost artefacts.
There's quite a lot of stuff here and some of it's a bit rubbish(!), so feel free to graze as you wish. Christmas is a time for self-indulgence, though - I hope you'll excuse mine as I cut the red ribbon and declare The Museum of Me open to visitors!
The University Years
Although I dabbled with writing during my teens, what there was of it seems to have been lost. So you're going to be spared my early satirical masterpiece The Sylvia Plath Guide to Gas Cookers. Going away to Brighton Polytechnic (as it was then) in 1991 was the catalyst for spreading my creative wings.
I set about writing my first scripts, while also getting experience in front of and behind the camera. Material from this period isn't exactly abundant, but I managed to find a handwritten script dating back to 1992. Entitled "Aceman", the sketch was inspired by our visit to the National Student Television Awards. There, we ran into our nemeses, a posh TV society from University College London who dared to also call themselves BTV (Bloomsbury Television). There was instant class war between the two groups and we became enraged by their snobbish attitude as well as amused by their inability to make toast (perhaps they had servants to do that). One of their number was moronically enthusiastic - saying "Ace" in response to pretty much any idea - and I quickly turned my poison pen in his direction.
Aceman Script (1992) - Click to open in new tab
Whose Bin (1992) - 8 minutes 32 seconds
And here, sparkling with amazing pre-CGI special effects, I take on the role of James Bond. Take note of my towering quiff and also the TV-edit framing device to cover up for the fact that we'd run out of studio time to film all of the footage.
Licence to Grill (1992/1993) - 8 minutes 15 seconds
The Fanzine Scene
After university (where I somehow gained a First, despite my extracurricular activities) we all got proper jobs and settled into a life of boring responsibility. Well, kind of. My BTV friend Stefan and I became fascinated by the possibilities of fanzines, those cheap photocopied magazines that had sprung up during the Punk period and never gone away. We had both grown up reading Whizzer and Chips, which had the novel idea of putting together two separate (and rival) comics into one publication. Couldn't we base a fanzine on the same principles?
So, CheeseCrank was born. Cheese (which Stefan edited) would be a music fanzine with humour, whereas Crank (which I edited) would be a far more eccentric and irrelevant proposition. The two twenty-page magazines would then be stapled back-to-back, so that shops could display them with the Cheese or the Crank side out, depending on their preference.
CheeseCrank Covers (1996) - Click to enlarge
We rounded up the old BTV crew as contributors and slaved for many hours over incredibly slow desktop publishing PCs. Printing up fifty copies, we hawked them round record shops and via the back pages of the NME:
CheeseCrank NME Form (1996) - Click to enlarge
Although it took several months, we eventually sold every copy, which must make it one of the most commercially successful things I've ever done!
Here's a selection of pages from the inside of Crank. Look out for Max Tastic's dad.
Crank Articles by Nick Cross (1996) - Click to open in new tab
One of the centrepiece features of Crank was our take on the popular fantasy football leagues of the day - the Fantasy Freedom Fighters League (FFFL). Even now, I can't believe that we filled four whole pages of the fanzine with what was basically a list of funny names. You'll see that there was an address to send your entry to, but I never received any (which was probably for the best).
Crank Fantasy Freedom Fighting League (1996) - Click to open in new tab
The FFFL was an early example of me bowing to the sensitivities of the market. Here's the original pitch and title:
FTL Pitch (1996) - Click to enlarge
Making CheeseCrank was an exhausting experience, and the first issue turned out to be the last. But I did take the idea of the FFFL to heart and started running play-by-mail games for my friends. Entitled TV Wars and later Media Moguls, I designed these to allow us to invent TV programmes and other media, then fight for audience share across a virtual marketplace. They were a lot of fun, but again, very labour-intensive for me. This is a typical film of mine from the game:
Media Moguls Film (1998) - Click to enlarge
Now that I've blundered into this section, I'm wondering if it's appropriate this close to Christmas (or at any time, really). Oh well, I was recently saying that I should be braver in my artistic choices...
TimePope was one of the first projects where it seemed like the scope of the story was even bigger than we could imagine. It was an epic idea, and I can remember endless brainstorming where we set out the ongoing story in terms of episodes, moving from ancient Byzantium to the future, via a comic interlude where our hero gets stuck babysitting the infant Jesus. Clearly, no bounds of religious taste were to be observed!
|TimePope doing what he does best|
TimePope Character Designs (2001) - Click to enlarge
The action was to begin in ancient times with a vampire attack in a confessional (don't ask me how that worked). Here's the first page of my storyboards:
TimePope Storyboards (2001) - Click to enlarge
TimePope Effects and Dialogue Test (2001) - 5 seconds
At some point, even though I had finished barely any footage from the film, I decided that I needed a trailer. Again, this was unfinished - though I remember spending a lot of time trying to animate an exploding model of a Lego Big Ben. The audio was complete, so I've used some stills of the set to give you an idea of how it might have looked. It takes the form of me trying to pitch the project to a couple of Hollywood execs:
TimePope Trailer (2001) - 1 minute 43 seconds
Thank you for joining me on this sprint through a decade of poor taste! I'll be wrapping myself up under the Christmas tree until next week, when it'll be time to unleash the concluding installment of The Museum of Me.