The rise and fall of the Glasgow Comics Art Convention-part one

I’ve previously blogged about UKCAC and it’s history through my eyes, but I kept talking about it’s spinoff, the Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) being destined for a separate  blog, so here we go…..

GLASCAC was born initially as part of Glasgow’s European City of Culture celebrations in 1990 and Glasgow  was chosen for this spin off as the city was throwing around money like confetti on anything which would bring people to the city, plus comics were huge at this point and Glasgow was a creative centre for the booming comics scene thanks to the sheer amount of creative talent often championed by AKA Books and Comics in the city.

Frank Plowright, one of the UKCAC organisers, saw a chance to do something in 1990 so he grabbed the opportunity. Unlike most conventions then, and even today, it wasn’t advertised and publicised just to the comics fan but to the wider public not just in the UK, but across Europe and the world as part of the city’s celebrations. In fact I remember seeing it advertised in Tube stations across London from the middle of 1989, and also at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. It got extraordinary coverage nearly a year before it happened in spring 1990, and to this day I’ve never seen any mart or convention in the UK get the sort of coverage that first GLASCAC did.

At the time I was still working for Neptune Distribution so the plan was to do a huge launch of the colour version of St. Swithin’s Day by Grant Morrison and Paul Grist, as well as generally pushing Trident Comics and try to sweeten up our existing customers and take the piss from those who thought we were stirring things, which as I’ve outlined before, we were.

The convention was to be held in Glasgow’s City Chambers which is to this date the most impressive, if somewhat impracticable, venue for a comic convention I’ve ever been to but it was an amazing venue with it’s gilded halls and marble staircases. Thankfully all we had were a dozen of so boxes of Trident Comics titles which we shipped to AKA who kindly stored them for us before we all made our way up from Leicester, though myself, and another lad Nigel, had to first do the regular Friday shipment of comics even though Geoff (the MD) had left for Glasgow from East Midlands airport early on the Friday morning.

This meant being driven to London, doing the shipment and then hopefully having it done in time for the teatime flight to Glasgow from Heathrow. A long day was ahead, but on what was a lovely spring day we went from Leicester to Heathrow, where we picked up the shipment of that weeks’ comics, drove back to where our warehouse (by warehouse I really mean a large room) was in Staines where we sorted out the shipment and to get it out on time so Nigel and myself could get our flight, we had to drive to the ANC depot by Heathrow Airport to drop it off by hand before being driven to the correct terminal at Heathrow and unceremoniously dumped at the entrance where we discovered we had plenty of time to get ready for our flight.

This is where I point out that flying around inside the UK at this time wasn’t as common as it is today, so as we piled into the BA departure lounge we ended up mingling with various politicians, musicians and businessmen who eyed us both with  suspicion as we looked very out of place as we were still in our work clothes which were covered in dirt and muck. Both Nigel and myself dived into the very plush toilets in the lounge to change before emerging like new men ready for the weekend ahead, though I’d decided to stay on a few days longer than everyone else to prolong thing as I hate farewells and the final day of events like this.

During the flight Nigel and myself decided to pose as pop stars going to Glasgow to play a gig, so we came up with the name The Stray Toasters after the comic of the same name just to take the piss out of some of the businessmen sitting around us who were sneering at us under their breaths. Thankfully for everyone the flight was less than an hour and we landed at Glasgow Airport in the early evening, which left us only the task of getting to our hotel  Now we weren’t staying at the Copthorne Hotel which was the convention hotel where Geoff and two of the marketing team, Viv and Adam, plus Martin Skidmore (editor of Trident Comics) were staying. No, we were slumming it at the nearby & cheaper Central Hotel which at that time had become just a bit shabby, but I liked the place and so did Nigel so we got into Glasgow city centre, made our way to the Central, checked in and found our rooms where we both changed to get ready to meet up with Geoff and the others at the Copthorne. This also meant Nigel got his first experience of Glasgow city centre which shouldn’t have come as a huge shock seeing as he was a Geordie used to going out in Newcastle, but it was fun in that short walk between hotels.

I need to also point out that in these pre-mobile days things had to be arranged just by saying you’d be in a place at a time while hoping everyone else stuck to their part of the arrangement. That’s easier said than done but it turned out that when we met up with Geoff and the others, they’d had a perfectly nice day in Glasgow while we’d be grafting like wankers in London and dashing around.

Anyhow, the first night in the hotel was about pressing the flesh and saying hello, not to mention drinking heavily. In fact most people were drinking heavily. Very heavily. Amazingly heavily. I remember drinking a lot with John Wagner who we’d gotten on-board for Toxic!, our competition to 2000AD which was due to come out in 1991. I remember seeing Nigel staggering around and at some point early in the morning deciding to beat a discrete retreat and pulling Nigel back to the Central as we needed to crash as we were due up early the next day. We did leave behind us a night of carnage as Alan Davis noted in a cartoon he did for the next UKCAC programme.

Image

I won’t name the person Davis references, but at the time they thought they were a huge name in the industry, and yes, this actually happened.

Moving on…

Getting up early on the Saturday was painful, but I did it, staggered to get breakfast where I found a very peaky looking Nigel turning into a huge breakfast which was a great idea. After this we’d arranged for Nigel and myself to go to AKA, pick up our boxes (yes, we did all the bloody graft) then head to the City Chambers to set up. We’d been positioned next to where John Wagner and Alan Grant were selling and signing copies of The Bogie Man and their associated memorabilia, and near AKA, but far away from Forbidden Planet or anything Titan related.

It was also the weekend where a huge Poll Tax demo was scheduled outside in George Square to coincide with one being held in London. We didn’t know this til it actually started but it gave Geoff an excuse to nip outside with me to sell copies of St. Swithin’s Day as an ‘anti-Thatcher’ comic to protesters who helped make the issue effectively sell out in it’s first weekend.

In fact the entire convention was a roaring success. Numbers through the door were huge, and not just comics people and the same old faces, but new people and kids who were there for the fun of it. That first day was simply amazing and I remember sitting with John Wagner laughing at how well the thing was going.

That night, Geoff had arranged to go out for a meal with John McShane, Pete Root and the rest of the senior AKA crowd in order to wine and dine them, but I couldn’t be bothered so I tagged along with Andy Sweeney who was part of the new AKA group who’d replaced me when I moved from Glasgow a few years earlier. I think Nigel tagged along too as we went for a meal, got a bit pissed and headed back to the Copthorne for the Saturday evening’s drinking where I challenged Pete Root to a Neptune Vs. AKA football match on the Sunday morning.

That evening was fun. Lots of good banter and in fact much more relaxed and fun than the London based UKCAC due to the lack of media whores (who shall remain nameless) trying to annoy people to get a break into comics. It was just a laugh!

Next morning I got up early, changed into trainers, etc for the footy match, and went to the City Chambers to meet Martin Skidmore and the rest of the AKA lot to walk down to Glasgow Green for our kickabout. Thing was the AKA crowd were hanging apart from a few and Martin had tried to wake up Geoff and VIv but she wasn’t answering and Geoff had been a wee bit sheepish when Martin had tried to get him out his hotel room. I remember sitting on those marble steps of the City Chambers with Martin going ‘he’s not shagging her is he?’ before we both laughed it off and headed back to our respective hotels to get change and come back to mock John McShane’s immense hangover.

The last day also went amazingly well. Frank walked around looking happy as it’d went amazing well, however we also awoke to the Sunday papers which told the story of the riots in London the previous day which concerned a lot of people as they were heading back to London that night, or early on Monday morning. I wasn’t due back until Wednesday though as I’d arranged to meet my then girlfriend of sort in London on Wednesday afternoon before heading back to Leicester at the weekend after.

The convention drew to a close with the overwhelming response being positive. Neptune had picked up some extra business. Trident had sold itself well, and we’d sold pretty much everything we brought with us. I even drunkenly abused some FP staff which was fun. It was a success but the main thing people wanted to know was would Frank do another, which he said he would but that would mean organising two big events in a year pretty much by himself.

As the Sunday progressed the convention thinned out as people left and dealers packed up to leave. Geoff and the others from work were heading back to Leicester that night so they left, while Nigel was going back to London that night as well, so I was all on my tod and now I was officially not representing the company I decided to have a serious drinking session with whomever was left. I’d went out with Andy and the bits and bobs of AKA people who were still standing, and as we walked through George Square on a stunning spring evening all you could smell were the flowers blooming. It was beautiful and then we all dived into a pint glass for the next few hours.

I woke up back in my room at the Central feeling awful, but I didn’t need to work, so I stumbled down to get breakfast, filled my plate and had a thoroughly nice day chilling out in Glasgow, though when I did catch the news about London I was starting to become concerned as it was looking like a warzone.

Tuesday was supposed to be sorting a few family things out, but I wisely thought against it and instead spent the day in Kelvingrove Park sitting around reading comics before heading back into the centre to have a final drink with the AKA crowd before heading back to London the next day.

I painfully checked out of the Central the next day, headed to Glasgow Airport with a stinking hangover, and got on my flight to Heathrow where the majority of conversation in the departure lounge was about the riots in London over the weekend. As we landed I thought I’d go into central London first before heading up to Camden to meet my girlfriend. this was mainly to see whether central London had been levelled but it hadn’t but the damage was still visible and the effects of that day ended up spelling the end of a Prime Minister, but there was something eerie about walking though a half empty London (people were avoiding the centre) on a weekday. Eventually I headed up to Camden but that’s another story….

GLASCAC would indeed return the following year, but I wouldn’t be there for a variety of reasons and wouldn’t actually return to the convention til 1992, and in fact I’d only go back to Glasgow once in that time which was for Andy Hope’s wedding later in 1990. The story of the 1992 GLASCAC and beyond is coming up in the next part so do please come back for that….

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