Neil Sims’ wraparound cover

When artist Ed Doyle and writer Alan Holloway launched Sentinel in 2020, they never thought they’d be in double issue figures by the end of 2021. “Whilst Ed is a famously quick artist,” says Alan, “we thought we’d maybe get three a year max, with just the two of us working on it.” Fast forward a year and a half after that first issue, and the boys have been joined by such talented indie artists as Andrew Richmond, Sinclair Elliott and Neil Sims, to name but three, all of whom are involved in the latest issue, (the ninth) which we can exclusively reveal is titled “77”.

Hang on… we’ve definitely heard that before…

“All three of these stories are set in 1977 so using the title “77” was a logical step,” explains Ed. “Plus we didn’t want to add too much text on Neil Sims fantastic cover art.” – which is shown above, exclusively on ComciScene.org! Now that is one awesome wraparound cover, right? “It’s ridiculously good,” Alan agrees. “It’ll have the logo on, but backers can buy an A4 print for a couple of quid, and one lucky person can buy the original art!”

“It’s quite serendipitous,” agrees Alan. “Eveyone involved in this issue also worked on issue 1 of ‘The 77’ (at least). Myself and Neil Sims co-created Philthy Luka for the strip ‘Temporal Anarchy’, which was dropped due to some baffling to and fro with the editor at the time. I had the idea of having a TA strip in each issue, introduced by Philthy, set in 1977, and as such had a few ideas and scripts for future issues. ’77’ is my chance to get them out there.”

So it’s not a dig at the popular publication? “Far from it,” Alan stresses. “The stories are set in 1977, the main character is from The 77, we were all involved in The 77, and it works so well with the art, as Neil was able to incorporate it subtly into the design”. “It gives respect and homage to the comic that introduced Philthy Luka to the world,” Ed agrees. “That is THE 77. A great Indie title that is going from strength to strength, showcasing new talent for everyone to enjoy.”

The two are the mainstays of the publication, with the aim not to have an issue without one of them involved. Ed is particularly proud of what they have achieved. “Sentinel has being a great experience. Its amazing to think from a suggestion I made to Alan about bringing back a Starblazer styled digest, to having 9 issues down the line, that we’ve come so far. So many different kinds of stories and a wide variety of artistic talent. It’s great to be a part of.”

The 80 page (compared to the normal 64) issue features three separate horror tales, with Philthy Luka getting a few pages at the beginning and end of the comic, illustrated by Neil Sims. Ed’s story is “Illuminati”, set during the Silver Jubilee, where he gets to draw The Queen, which must have been fun. “It was like any other portrait,” he says. “Some photo reference, especially for what she wore for her Silver Jubilee. And the ornate carriage she was in. I’m pleased in the way it all turned out.”

Ed Doyle’s opening page for “Illuminati”

Holloway and Doyle have become the indie Wagner and Ezquerra (“We wish!” laughs Alan), as they have produced quite a body together. “Myself and Alan are on the same wavelength,” Ed explains. “We grew up reading the same comics. His writing suits me very well as he leaves plenty of scope for my own interpretation, when it comes to what to put in the panel, layouts etc. It just clicked with us back when we were brought together on Peter Duncan’s Sector 13. Been like that ever since.”

Sentinel is an ongoing project, with Alan writing all the issues (with several completed and waiting for artists). Ed is kept busy with it, too. “Alan has a number of scripts for me to draw for Sentinel. Next one down the line is ‘Horror at Hammer House’, our tribute to those classic Hammer movies. Then there’s ‘Valhallasaur’. This one is right up my alley, featuring Vikings, dinosaurs and aliens in the mix. After that who knows what will pop up regarding comic strips. You’re guaranteed myself and Alan will be in the thick of it, whatever it is.”

New to Sentinel is Sinclair Elliott, whose contribution to The 77 was the original design of one of the stand out strips, ‘Division 77’, and the first five instalments. He’s known for his crisp, clear lines, and I comment that it’s a surprise he’s not been headhunted for a professional position yet. “Thanks, that’s quite a compliment,” he says modestly. “As regards getting work with major publishers I made the final selection of the two Thought Bubble 2000AD Art Contest I entered but unfortunately didn’t win. It was a thrill though showing my art to Matt Smith (2000AD current Tharg) and having him being quite enthusiastic about it and being put through to the next day (portfolio review is on day one and the panel is on day two). I would have submitted some samples via the “Slush Pile” but since the pandemic started it’s been closed and there’s no real indication if it’ll ever be open again. The whole comics industry is in flux at the moment so maybe artists like me shouldn’t just think that the end goal is getting published by the traditional established companies. I have plenty of areas I need to improve on anyway, believe me.”

His story in 77 is ‘The Seven Penny Nightmare’, inspired by John Wagner and Pat Mills’ tales of how they used to create new comic in the 70s. I ask Sinclair if he was aware of the inspiration Alan took to form the basis of the script. “Sort of,” he admits. “I suppose the way they put the comic together in the story could be a bit ‘on the nose’ but it’s all in good fun. Anyway, Alan gets the blame if Pat or John take umbrage!”

Sinclair Elliott’s opening page to “Seven Penny Nightmare”

He’s now part of what is a growing stable of creators who just want to make good comics without greed or politics getting in the way. I ask him how that came about. “I contacted Alan probably over a year ago after backing a couple of issues of Sentinel but he said that he didn’t need any more artists at the time to draw a full issue, then at the end of last year he said he had a shorter story that would be part of a horror issue. I read it, thought it was a cool story and felt I would enjoy drawing it. For me, it’s really important that there is a hook in the story that I’d be excited to draw and that the story satisfies me on some level.”

Is there a chance of a full length Sentinel from your hand? “Watch this space is all I can say,” he says mysteriously. “He has a script,” Alan chips in. “I have been a fan ever since I read issue one of The 77, and would be overjoyed to have him draw an issue. The one I have in mind is a Western story with minimal Sci Fi elements, sort of like Strontium Dog at times, but without any mutants. It’s a great story and I know he’d knock it out of the park.” So is there anything else on the cards for Sinclair? “I’ve been asked to contribute to an art book based on English actress Caroline Munro who was a mainstay of the horror and fantasy films of the 60’s like Sinbad and Hammer. It’s a fun project to be involved in.”

The final piece in the main body of the issue is Andrew Richmond, a multi talented artist and designer from Bath who is following up his first full issue ‘To Be A Hero’, which has just been successfully Kickstarted. He seems keen! “If I had more time,” he says, “I’d probably have a third one ready to go. But DoubleJack will have to wait until 2022 to stalk the streets of London. (It is all roughed out though).” So what’s DoubleJack? “When I first met Alan, I talked about doing a Victorian Grand Guignol tale, pulling on my love for Hammer Horror. Alan came back pretty swiftly with Double Jack, another fantastic tale from his imagination.”

Andrew has a foot firmly in both camps, with the speedy artist contributing to The 77 and providing impressive design work for the excellent retro comic Blazer as well. No one likes to walk a tightrope, though. Except tightrope walkers. “I leave the rivalries to the gaffers of those books, keep my head down and continue to throw ink around,” is his diplomatic reply. “Indie and small press comics is such a small world, so we all have to support each other.” And it’s not just those camps he straddles either! “I’m currently colouring the next volume of Harker, I’m publishing Heracles by Professor Laurence Alison and David Hitchcock, co-creating the horror anthology Dead By Dawn, working on a strip for The77Annual, on design and art duties for Blazer! 2, same again for Pandora, plenty of pages for John A. Short’s Octobriana 50 and also my daily sketch. Also, holding down a full time job. And about to be a Dad again. And that takes us to September!”

He seems to fit in well wherever he goes. His story in 77, ‘Monster Ink’, centres around a Newcastle Upon Tyne graffiti artist whose designs take on a life of their own, which must have been fun to do. “I liked the idea that it was set in the mid-seventies,” he says. “I was a bit too young to be a punk first time around, but I was aware what was happening back then. And I have always loved monsters and horror. So, Monsters Ink fitted in nicely for me.”

Andrew Richmond’s opening page to “Monster Ink”

Alan is very happy with the way things have turned out. “Ed keeps using the word ‘Blessed’ a lot, and he’s got a point,” he laughs. “We’ve definitely been blessed with these guys and the others hard at work on other issues, and I would never have thought I’d be here when I started trying to write comics properly a few years ago. The 77 has introduced the readers to some great talents and it’s ambitions and achievements are admirable. I really do hope no one takes umbrage at our title and sees it for what it is – accurate, respectful and fun. I mean, you have to take a few little swipes at the competition don’t you!”

Sentinel Issue 9: “77”, starts it’s Kickstarter campaign on Saturday14th August for five weeks.

You can register interest HERE: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sentinelcomic/sentinel-issue-9-77

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