Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Sunday, 1 June 2008 10:51 UK

Catwalks and comic book heroes

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

A design by Sandra Murray (Pic: Lloyd Bishop)
A model poses in one of Sandra Murray's designs. Picture: Lloyd Bishop
In the last in a series on the use of technology in the Highlands and Islands, the BBC Scotland news website looks at broadband.

It has brought Star Wars stormtroopers, graphic novel artists and writers to the north for the Highlands' first comic book convention.

And made it possible for work of an Inverness fashion designer to be seen in all its glory on the web.

Broadband along with advances in communications technology have opened the Highlands and Islands to the rest of the world at a click of a mouse.

But the roll-out of faster internet speeds has not been without problems.

One woman for whom the web has been a major boost is Inverness designer Sandra Murray.

Her work has been draped on models posing against the backdrops of a New York City skyline and dramatic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.

While she cannot ever rule out the value of face-to-face meetings with buyers and those who provide her with the raw materials, she said a website dedicated to her designs has helped raise her profile.

She said: "It is definitely a shop window for me.

"I haven't put products up for sale on the website but that might come."

Ms Murray said one handbag designer's online sales now out strip those of her flagship shop.

Practically the entire event was organised through e-mail - from sending invitations to guests to booking hotel rooms and flights for them
Richmond Clements
HiEx organiser

Ms Murray said: "It just shows people are so busy and time-short they can't walk round the corner to the shops."

However, amid the drive towards new technology, Ms Murray said fashionistas were hankering for traditional materials.

She said: "I think one of the best things I have ever done is a photo shoot in the Hebrides which are shown on the website.

"It shows the place but also because luxury is being redefined a lot of people want heritage and history attached to their clothes.

"They want something to trace back, such as to Harris Tweed, or Lochcarron.

"When I did an event with the National Trust for Scotland in New York I had five models wearing five garments all in Scottish fabric.

"These were 5ft 11in, very glamorous girls in the Metropolitan Club, which is quite a grand place, and the models were going around telling people about the clothing."

Star Wars and debates on which actor was the best Batman and the explosion in popularity of Japanese Manga comics could not be further removed from statuesque fashion models strutting their stuff in the Big Apple.

But Ms Murray's art and HiEx - the Highlands' first comic book convention - are loosely connected by their use of the internet to reach the wider world.

Richmond Clements, one of the convention organisers, said without communications technology the event would not have happened.

He said: "Practically the entire event was organised through e-mail - from sending invitations to guests to booking hotel rooms and flights for them.

"Our website, which was kindly built for us by one of the guests, author Michael Carroll, was at the forefront of the publicity drive to promote the event.

"Mike had previously organised the Irish National Sci-Fi con, Octocon, so as well as providing excellent advice and experience, he also gifted us with another splendid thing.

"He had written a computer program to help organise the weekend."

Cover of FutureQuake comic. (Pic courtesy of Richmond Clements)
The cover of FutureQuake comic which Mr Clements is involved with

The introduction of faster internet connection speeds in the region had some hitches.

Connected Communities, a publicly-funded scheme to bring wireless broadband on the Western Isles, has met with fierce opposition on Barra.

Residents have argued money would be better spent upgrading telephone exchanges for BT to provide cheaper and faster internet services.

Earlier this year, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said it was dealing with a number of objections and complaints.

Work to deliver broadband internet connections across the rest of the Highlands and Islands was also dogged by delays and extra expense.

In November, a Highland Council report said the 70m flagship government project, Pathfinder North, to provide faster services was six months behind schedule and 1.6m over budget.

The project is being rolled out in Argyll and Bute, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

The previous Scottish Executive administration committed more than 60m to Pathfinder North.

Meanwhile, the larger than life adventures of comic book stories are being transformed by technology.

Mr Clements said: "I'm part of the editorial team on the comic FutureQuake, and we could not function without the internet.

"There are three of us involved in putting the book out, and we live in Birmingham, Cardiff and me in the Highlands."

He added: "Some artists have abandoned paper altogether. The most famous and notable artists to do so is Brian Bolland.

"He is renowned for his brilliantly precise line work. What is amazing though is that after moving to purely digital drawing, his style never changed at all.

"It still looks as detailed and realistic as it always did."

Burning ideas in tech 'hot house'
29 May 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Lab cooks up hi-tech fashion firm
28 May 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Inside the Distance Lab
29 May 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Rural homes 'lead broadband UK'
21 May 08 |  Technology
Row over isles broadband roll-out
11 Feb 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Broadband roll-out going 'well'
29 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Delays in key broadband project
29 Nov 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Scots' impact on comics examined
22 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands
First superheroes expo for north
18 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands

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