Publisher: Stop Press 64
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #65

Are you a regular EUG reader? Well then, you'll remember that several years ago, before the Acorn Electron Haven went 'live', EUG looked at some "clipart" discs available from the 8BS library. Hmmmm, in fact, we called that review Collections Of Clipart, which was plainly wrong as those discs were actually graphical screens. Clipart is a form of artwork designed to fit around a text file, something that gives a graphical 'lift' to a neighbouring narrative.

Now it's easy to confuse the two as, naturally, practically any images can be used to complement a text. In this review however, we're going to look at six of the 'pure' clipart discs for the BBC series. These have just taken their place on the Haven website and of such quality that they surely deserve their own write-up. They are called the SP64 Picture Discs, and each contains around thirty rather intricate Mode 0 designs and a viewer program.

If your memory stretches back as far as the early paper-based EUG mags then you may have been impressed by the black and white illustrations when you thumbed through them. You may also recall that these were produced by an amateur 8-bit desktop package named Stop Press 64. This was an application (and the only product of its kind) for the BBC and 64K Elk that allowed luscious-looking printouts combining text and graphical clipart to be produced.

The SP64 hardware package is extremely rare and many Elk users, myself included, can as yet only dream of acquiring it. Fortunately though, you do not need SP64 to view the SP64 Picture Discs as each contains a few lines of code that displays their contents 'slideshow style'. At least five of these are not 'official' discs either, i.e. discs supplied originally with the SP64 program. These discs arrived on the Public Domain circuit in the early Nineties courtesy of various artists eager to share their talents.

The discs themselves then. The first shock to the system is that these are the first discs I've seen in a long time where you have to type CHAIN"VIEWER" to begin; a necessary step, it would seem because a !BOOT file has been sacrificed in favour of having the disc chock full of picture files for you to load into the SP64 program (if you're lucky enough to own it). The viewer program is the same on all of the discs; 'unpacking' each image in turn and 'wiping' it into the top left hand corner of the Mode 0 screen. Each image remains on screen for a few seconds before being replaced with the next one.

The clipart on the first two discs is quite simply superb. It hails from a German artist, one Oliver Debus, and the images are an intriguing blend of cartoon characters, automobiles and comic strips. Although there are some dud ones in there, all have quite evidently been produced with the utmost tender loving care - my favourite has to be the couple on a raft! The only proviso is that two of the images contain captions in German.

These really are a hard act to follow and at least discs 3 and 4 don't fair too well in comparison. Disc 3 could be subtitled as "Safety At Work" and disc 4 as "Sheilds of the Shires". Both are much less visually appealling and could only be used to illustrate a very specialised piece of writing. The images as a slideshow are dull dull dull. Luckily, if you skip through the shields, disc 4 does feature some rather fetching starsign characters which are much more attractive. Indeed, HeadFirst PD used the Pisces fish to illustrate their catalogue - a sure sign of quality!

All the designs on the fifth disc are also of a reasonably high standard and depict a collection of characters on the telephone. It's difficult to think of an article they would be appropriate for but, as a slideshow, they are interesting, if a bit surreal. They're still worlds away from the quality of the Debus images though.

The clipart images on the sixth and final disc are a lot smaller in dimension and, while those on the first five disc may actually be (very well) scanned, are quite definitely freehand. This final batch are more generic in that there are spooky images (ghosts and skeletons), animals (dinosaurs and pets) and people (engaged in work and leisure activities) to choose from. These give the impression of being an official SP64 library of images, although that is not necessarily the case.

These new disc slideshows seem a bit of a mixed bag but concentrating on the better discs I was struck by their feel of timelessness. They certainly don't look 'different' now they have been converted to PC .gif images and stored alongside the existing clipart library I have on my PC. For that reason, I recommend you check them out, and any more that may join them in the future.