This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Black Convoy rolls outta the garage

7th June 2005

Quick news. As the official BC mechanic, I think I can say that we have just launched the Black Convoy website, beginning with a “yellow” June 2005 issue featuring themed responses from the thirteen convoyers.

black convoy

For those that don’t know, Black Convoy is a UK based illustration and art collective formed to facilitate collaboration with artists and designers, and to stage collaborative events in numerous global cities.

Founded by Pixelsurgeon genius Richard May and the madly-talented McFaul, BC is gathering momentum in the States, Asia and the UK as huge sponsors and galleries start hitching a ride.

For the website, I have stuck very closely to Richard, Mark and Steve’s original layouts, which demanded a very simple, unflashy interface where the work stood out. A few tricky elements (DHTML scrollers - queue alt CSS for crap browsers) and other bits and pieces mean that it’s perhaps not as accessible as it should be, but do give us time to let it all bed in first.

The Garage

Whilst all the convoyers are super-talented, thay’re not all web savvy, so it was decided (by me) that I would build them their own customized admin interface, called The Garage. This strips out all the extraneous CMS faff, and puts the process in context. If it isn’t necessary, it isn’t in the garage.


Convoyers can upload images, chat privately, collaborate on images and “book out” files, add and edit their own submissions, view all their forthcoming events and much more. What’s more, it all looks nice and friendly, and everything is safely muzzled.


The file lists mirror whatever is placed in the relevant image directories on the server, using some nifty PHP scripting. So, the moment a convoyer uploads a new image, it appears in the file list and becomes available. The Garage solves all the problems of regular CMS usage, and should keep the Black Convoy on the road. Amazing what can be done with a little Expression.

Each month it’s a new issue and new theme

All regular items (menus, tabs, logos, text etc) are black and white, and will remain so, whilst the temporary items (images and thumbnails) will be a colour and/or theme set by BC. Running up to the first of each month, the administrator will upload the PSD templates for the forthcoming month into the Garage, detailing the theme and idea for that issue. As you will see, the first issue (June 2005) is a yellow illustration kinda thang. Check the site again on the 1st of July to see what the theme will be that month. Eventually the site will build into an archive of monthly issues.

Sufferin’ Suckerfish

I’ve bastardised Patrick’s Suckerfish dropdowns here, owing to limited space and the need to control look and feel of all page tools (hence I dropped the select menus I previewed earlier this month).


This should do the trick for now (doesn’t work on IE5 Mac, so for now an alternative style sheet is served up removing the menu entirely), and more will be added as the monthly issues build up. If you want a breakdown of how these tricky menus were done, just ask.

Control of the scroll

So, DHTML scrollbars. Yes, I feel bad. Yes, I have beaten myself about the face with a fish. Look, it had to be done. The convoyers wanted control of the scroll, so no overflow:auto and definitely no frames. If only it worked on all browsers - sadly the alternative stylesheet is used here again to convert things to overflow:auto on IE Mac. I’m also working on the JavaScript replacement here, so don’t flog me yet.


There’s very little extra waffle on the site. There is some basic info in the FAQ section, and info about projects will build up, but the BC team were very keen to keep things simple, and let the images take precedence. I’m happy with that.

Let me know what you think about it. It’s a little light on content at the moment, but imagine what it’ll be like once the issues build up, and it’s jam-packed with illustrations, photos, movies and animations. Yum-yum! Keep on trucking, convoyers.


# Crystal responded on 7th June 2005 with...

It’s fantastic, unusual. I love it! The illustrations are really good - especially the owl. Twit-t-woo!

# Dave responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Looks really nice but sounds alike an awful lot of work :D a new design every month.. hmm not sure how your going to keep that up, let alone coming up with a new different design each month but i am eager to watch the site as it changes.

# Jon Hicks responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Nice work! So that was ALL expression engine? Hmmmm…

# Mark Boulton responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Looks great Colly, nice job. So come on, how the hell did you do that custom backend with EE?

# Simon Collison responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Dave: Luckily, I don’t have to worry about each issue. One convoyer uploads the templates for the images, then they all create images based on the set theme, and finally they upload them all. All I have to do is keep an eye on things.

Jon / Mark: Erm, the custom admin wasn’t too difficult. The upload form is a version of the Stand-Alone Entry Form with most of the necessary fields hidden, and I use the timestamp numbers to give it a unique “title” reference with a set prefix.

The edit forms use the Stand-Alone Edit plug-in (hacked to f**k, of course. Then it’s lots of “show_future_entries” tags and fiddly bits to let them see future submissions in context.

Finally, the “book out a file” section uses the SAEF method again, but tied to the file directory lists.

A big nightmare really, but it all seems to work fine. Maybe I’ll find time to do some tutorials at some point, but they’d be loooong articles…

# John Oxton responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Very nice job! It will be interesting to see this one grow. And that EE admin does looks interesting

# Patrick Haney responded on 7th June 2005 with...

Wow, that is quite nice. The admin features seem straightforward and easy enough to use, which should help the site find fresh content.

One thing I noticed though is that your Suckerfish dropdown for artists doesn’t appear the same in Firefox as it does in IE6 (which looks like the screenshot above). Were you aware of this, or is it something you’re not worried about?

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