2018 Recipient: MARK ASKWITH (1956-)
Mark Askwith (born April 6, 1956) is a Canadian producer, writer, interviewer (and sometime-publisher/editor), and a familiar name in the fields of science fiction and comics.
After working at Oberon Press, and Coach House Press, between 1982 and 1987, Askwith managed one of the premiere North American comic book stores – The Silver Snail in Toronto. Situated at that time opposite the Bakka-Phoenix Science Fiction Bookstore, it provided an opportunity to soak up the comics/Sci-Fi atmosphere, and allowed Askwith to meet legendary (and local) Science Fiction and comics authors, including Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz.
Leaving the Silver Snail in 1987, he started work on a Prisoner comic with Dean Motter (below), and worked in an art directorial supportive role on Ron Mann’s comics documentary Comic Book Confidential (Sphinx Productions, 1988), an overview/history of the comic book medium in the U.S.A, from the 1930s to the ’80s. The documentary featured interviews with such noteworthy individuals as Charles Burns, Art Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly, Frank Miller, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Harvey Pekar, and William M. Gaines. The success of the documentary inspired Askwith to expand upon some of Mann’s ideas into a television magazine programme which would similarly explore areas of fan interest (comics, Science Fiction, horror, etc.) largely through interviews and commentary. The programme was called Prisoners of Gravity.
In 1989, Askwith became a full-time television producer and writer, and one of his first programmes was Prisoners of Gravity. The brainchild of Askwith, Daniel Richler, and Rick Green (who also hosted the programme), Prisoners of Gravity was a Canadian news magazine program that explored speculative fiction, specifically Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Comics. Produced by TVOntario, the series ran for 139 episodes over five seasons.
The establishing framework for the programme is not dissimilar to that of its similarly-targeted peer Mystery Science Theater 3000, both featuring a stranded host who ostensibly broadcast the programme themselves from isolation. The similarities largely end there, however. MST3K was a comedy programme that focused each episode on a particular film and provided running gag commentary on it. Prisoners of Gravity ran a series of interviews with authors and creators from the science fiction and comics communities, with the host linking the subject matter together and focusing down on a specific topic for that episode.
Episodes from the first season (broadcast between August 1989 and March 1990, and now believed largely missing/wiped) reportedly focused on areas including UFOs, Star Trek and Comic book conventions. The subsequent four seasons (preserved, and available for viewing by appointment at The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy public library located in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada) often featured episodes on much more specific topics. These included “Will Eisner & The Spirit”, “Watchmen”, “Cyberpunk”, “Ray Bradbury”, “The Sandman”, “Tolkien” and Jack Kirby” among many others.
Many of the interviews for these programmes (including specific interviews with Watchmen creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and Sandman author Neil Gaiman) were apparently carried out by Askwith himself.
Prisoners of Gravity first aired on TVOntario and ran for five seasons and 139 episodes before being canceled in 1994. Many of its episodes were subsequently syndicated, and have appeared (briefly) on PBS, The Discovery Channel and Space, of which Askwith is one of the founding producers.
Askwith was one of the founding producers of the channel, which was licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1996, and debuted on October 17, 1997 at 6:00 p.m. EST, under the ownership of CHUM Limited. Askwith is particularly involved in the documentary side of things, and the so-called ‘interstitial’ materials which pepper the channels’ output. The first of which was a comment on the channels first-broadcast film Forbidden Planet by noted Canadian Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer.
He has produced – and appeared in – SPACE’s HypaSpace Daily/Weekly, an entertainment news show which looks specifically at the Science Fiction news, which was later renamed InnerSpace.
Askwith has dabbled in writing himself, mostly comics.
Most notably, his collaboration with Dean Motter in helping write the authorized “The Prisoner” sequel met with considerable critical and fan-approval. The four-part prestige-format mini-series, serialized between 1988 and 1989 has subsequently been collected in graphic novel format as Shattered Visage, still in print (since 1990) and published by DC Comics/Warner Bros. in the US, and Titan Books in the UK.