In the spring of 1989 Neptune moved warehouses from a small cramped one in Enderby just outside Leicester (opposite the Conservative club where you’d often see the likes of Nigel Lawson leaving slime trails as he entered the building) to a much larger one in South Wigston in Leicester. This effectively was obviously because the distribution arm of the business was growing at a massive rate thanks to how we managed to get comics in quicker or at the same time as Titan, but it was also in preparation for Trident Comics. This meant Martin Skidmore actually had a desk as opposed to floating around, and we’d also gained a proper upstairs office for Geoff which meant we’d see less of him flying around in the warehouse. Also, Gordon had made the transition from warehouse lackey to helping Martin out with art direction and marketing for Trident, so we needed to recruit new body so we ended up with John who’d previously worked at Final Frontier, the comic shop based in Leicester itself at the top of High Street which is now closed down.
John was, well, quite frankly socially inept as he’d joined a group of people who were either total pissheads or really didn’t care about Star Trek as much as John clearly did. He could however drive, so that took a bit of driving off Neil and Geoff though it did mean Gordon and myself would often be stuck in a transit van with a terminal geek who wouldn’t know a Harvey Kurtzman comic if it bit him on the arse. Yes, we were comic snobs. Deal with it!
Sadly not long after we moved we lost Neil as he’d had enough of Geoff’s insane bullying so he walked. I won’t go into any further detail as I hope Neil himself (it is after all his part of the story to tell and he can correct me/fill in the blanks my memories and 25 year old diaries are missing) will fill in the blanks in the comments but needless to say this left Geoff angry to the point where he was spitting with rage one time to an audience of myself, John, Martin and Gordon in the warehouse. After he’d finished spitting blood we all decided we were working for a loony, which of course we were but things were still fun and it was still a great job for all the shite we had to take. Thankfully things were busy so we still had routine of Monday to Wednesday prepping for the deliveries on Thursday and Friday. As we were taking on more new accounts and having existing customer like AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow, or Comic Showcase and Gosh! in London boosting their orders we’d often end up with weeks where we’d not finish on a Friday til late, which meant getting home to Leicester after pub closing time.
What had helped Neptune was the aggressive expansion policy of Titan’s Forbidden Planet chain which had already seen a shop open in Glasgow (as detailed in this lengthy blog of mine) and was seeing potential shops open in Manchester and Birmingham. We’d do as much as possible to help shops out with AKA getting the advantage of myself often coming up to Glasgow with boxes of stuff on trolleys a day before any other shop would get stock, while London shops would get deliveries on the same day. That meant insane races round London which then should have seen us being nicked and today would see us probably be locked up personally by Boris Johnson personally. In this respect Geoff’s insanity served the company well as it drove us on against the much larger Titan who were becoming increasingly fed up with us.
Geoff had seriously stirred things up the previous year by printing a full page editorial on the inside cover of Fantasy Advertiser #103 titled Conflict of Interest. Sadly I no longer have a copy so can’t show it (if anyone reading this can provide me with a scan please get in touch in the comments below) , but the jist was the editorial outlined Titan and Forbidden Planet’s relationship, and how having a distributor supply their own and independent shops would create a conflict of interest which it did as FP would often be given a priority over other shops. What really pissed off Titan, and especially Mike Lake, was the fact this editorial was in a magazine which was stocked by Forbidden Planet which from what I remember, caused one or twenty interesting conversations in various FP shops. Battle lines were drawn.
1989 was an enormous year for Neptune, yet looking back it could have been bigger had Geoff allowed people to get on doing their jobs, which by now, we were all really good at our jobs. It felt at times like playing for a top football side but watching the manager try to play in all the positions at the same time while shouting at us for not helping him enough even though he was getting in the way. A flashpoint which clarified things was on an occasion where Tod was over from the US and we’d taken him out in Leicester for a few drinks. While were were out in The Globe, we’d bumped into Neil and had a jolly night drinking with him. Next morning I turned up for work and walked into a shouting match with Geoff, Sarah and Tod which then developed into a massive argument with everyone in the building as Geoff had decided that because he hated Neil that we shouldn’t have anything to do with him. This was fucking insane and we all made it clear that this was indeed, mental but there was no getting through to Geoff and the end of this prolonged argument was that the profit share (which saw everyone gain an extra few hundred quid at least) we were all part of was cancelled out of spite. This seriously fucked everyone off and we all made it clear individually or as a unit over the next few days Geoff was out of order, and several people were talking about leaving. Considering that by this point we’d built up a solid team this would have killed Neptune and Trident off so eventually Geoff (or more likely, Sarah had nagged Geoff) relented and even made a half-arsed apology to us for speaking to us like children. After then (this would be around the late winter/spring of 1989) things actually calmed down and amazingly, Geoff calmed down too as partly he was concentrating more on Trident but also I believe he started anger management classes. There’s a soap opera/sitcom in all this you know.
1989 as it progressed saw the year of the Tim Burton Batman film and this was insane for anyone involved in comics who had an ounce of business sense. Sticking a Batman logo on anything was a license to print money and that meant we all made loads of money in the run up to the film opening here in the UK in August of 1989.
I’ve detailed elsewhere about how it was impossible for anyone to fuck this up, yet Titan did. On the day the film opened in the UK, Titan gave their warehouse lads the day off which meant we had a clear run in London to drop off comics that shops wouldn’t get from Titan til the Saturday, or in some cases, the Monday after the film opened. Considering the queues outside the cinema in Leicester Square we saw as we stopped by to take in the atmosphere, i’d say those Titan lads probably waited hours as well. This though was a defining moment as it was a bollock dropped and for many people showed how complacent Titan were so this led to more business coming our way. Now this didn’t mean we were hammering Titan to the ground but when we’re delivering comics as normal while your competitor takes the day off to see a film, albeit a Batman film, it does show a certain contempt and/or slackness.
I remember meeting up with the Neptune crowd on the Saturday in Leicester as we went to see the film telling them of the stories of the previous day, and all of this made Geoff drool with glee at what we were going to get on the Monday. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him happier, or acting like a normal person as I did that day and after that he took less of an active role in the distribution side as Trident Comics were ramping up plus he was by now throwing around the idea of producing a weekly comic to rival 2000AD. That comic was TOXIC! and in it’s small way changed the British comics scene completely.
In the next part of this history, I’ll go more into depth about Trident Comics, tell the full story of UKCAC 1989, the sordid secrets of GLASGAC in 1990 and tell the story of how one man’s hubris ended up pulling down the whole house of cards which in the process ended up setting up the monopolies which still dominates British comics distribution and retail today.