The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Five

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

1990 was a new decade. The Cold War was over and there was a general feeling of enormous optimism even though the UK still had Thatcher in power but the feeling was that things were about to change. This certainly was the case at Neptune where we ended 1989 on an enormous high with the distribution side going well, Trident Comics going well and plans for what would become Toxic! going ahead full steam. Neptune had established a permanent office near Gatwick Airport where Martin and Paul, a chap who used to work for customs there had been lured across. Todd still manned the US office in New York, while the Manchester office fell though, we’d taken on Nigel who lived in Nottingham which meant we could do drops not just there, but Leeds and Sheffield. At Leicester we’d taken on another Paul to help myself and John (and frankly I needed someone normal to talk to) as well as Adam and Viv, who were primarily sales and marketing as Geoff took an increasingly back seat in the distribution side, but often ended up pulling comics with me. Both were young graduates and Viv helped increase the balance of sexes in the company as it was a very, very male orientated company.

The idea was to structure Neptune into a proper company with a MD, directors, sales/marketing staff. experienced warehouse staff to help me and Trident/Apocalypse would be the preserve of Geoff, Martin Skidmore and John McShane. For a while it worked. Yes, sometimes Geoff had to step in to help out Adam or Viv, and even occasionally he’d come down to the warehouse to help pull some comics to get away from Sarah who was heavily pregnant. Basically things were hard work but they were fun.

I was spending my spare time flitting between drinking myself into a haze in Leicester, or doing the same in London and Glasgow, though by this point I’d been introduced to my first E and thus became a bit of a lovely association with the drug. I’d also started selling off large chunks of my own rather large and increasing collection, not to mention I was buying new comics from Neptune plus I was getting comics cheap from Chris Bacon and Maurice Pitman, a couple of comic dealers from Bristol who’d been introduced to me by Neil, and that I still help out to this day. Though we are older and heavier than we were back in those young, sexy days!

I’d do comic marts in Glasgow which meant shipping my stuff up to AKA, getting them dropped off at my table at whatever venue these marts would take place. Sell loads and come back with massive wads of cash in my pocket even after a night out drinking heavily. I remember one such occasion where I’d went to Glasgow for a mart, and been introduced properly to Bridget (one of the new AKA lads’ Andy Sweeney’s girlfriend, and who is one of the crew who come to Glastonbury now with me) ), she helped me sell hundreds or pounds of comics and from then on in things are a blur. I remember having a meal, going to a pub going with Dominic Regan to a house party and then the next thing I remember is waking up in a bed with around four people passed out on top of each other. Thankfully I’d stashed my takings at AKA but I was in a house somewhere in Glasgow and I needed to get back to AKA, grab my bags, grab a taxi and get my plane back to London so I could get to Kilburn to see a gig at the Town and Country club, before eventually heading back to Leicester on Monday and sleeping. I remember waking someone up, finding out where I was. Calling a taxi and telling the taxi driver to take me to Virginia Galleries so I could pick up my stuff from AKA and then to take me to Glasgow Airport. Frankly, the look of disgust the driver was throwing at me was immense. Then again my hair looked like four people slept on it, I smelled of people who weren’t me, and I looked liked I’d been ingesting pure alcohol laced with MDMA for a week. The driver did indeed wait for me outside AKA as I grabbed my rucksack and my briefcase which contained over a grand in cash (after paying for shipping to and from Glasgow, tables and bunging Bridget some cash) which in 1990 was an impressive haul for a mart. I took the cash out the briefcase and stuffed it into a pocket of my leather jacket.

By now I didn’t give a fuck about pissing this taxi driver off. He clearly thought I was taking the piss but as we pulled up outside Glasgow Airport I pulled out a wad of cash and for some reason the driver was suddenly amazingly nice to me. He even offered me his business card as he probably thought I was either a drug dealer or involved in something to do with media/music. Little did he know it was worse than that, it was comics!

This was my life. I utterly loved it. I really didn’t want to give it all up and I could stomach dealing with Geoff’s rants though these were becoming less in relation to the distribution side which by now was a well oiled machine. The rants were being thrown at poor Martin Skidmore who was trying to straddle the line between being an editor and a mate to some of Trident’s creators. Fortunately Mark Millar was astonishingly professional for one so young and inexperienced and if he’d not turned out scripts on time Trident Comics would have floundered. We’d even started plans for another ongoing comic to be written by Mark and drawn by Andrew Hope; The Shadowmen. The idea was to make Mark our superstar writer and the next Grant Morrison, a quote that Geoff said often and little did we know how prophetic that phrase would actually be.

During the week my routine developed into drinking at the Pump and Tap in Leicester, going for late drinks at Que Pasa, the tapas restaurant just across the road from the Pump, then going home to pass out and get up in the morning to pull comics/sell comics to shops across the UK/do anything to avoid engaging John in a conversation about Star Trek. Considering how much I put into my body back then I’m amazed I got past my 25th birthday but I was in my early 20’s, doing a fun job working with some good people and things I enjoyed, plus I had a lot of disposable income. Neptune wasn’t just stable, it was growing and I by now was getting a lot of benefits from the company, so coming up to the first Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) in the spring of 1990 things were brilliant.

The planning for this first GLASCAC was immense. I know in these days of comic conventions saying this every five minutes this seems like hyperbole but in 1990, this wasn’t. That first GLASCAC was massively important not only in helping Neptune maintain a public image, but for Trident Comics and Toxic! (which now had been named to much disagreement) to be launched with a provisional autumn 1991 launch. We’d spent weeks working out what we’d do and how we’d not only promote ourselves at GLASCAC, but somehow get that week’s comics out. So a plan was hatched.

Geoff, Viv and Martin Skidmore would fly up from Leicester on Friday afternoon, link up with John McShane at AKA and meet and greet John Wagner, Alan Grant and Kev O’Neill. Myself and Nigel would fly up from London after doing that week’s comics So on the Friday morning myself, Nigel and John made our way in the van to Staines (where we had a warehouse) to await the delivery. Except we got a call from Martin in Gatwick that the delivery was delayed which put our flights at risk. Again, a plan was hatched. We’d pick up the shipment from Heathrow and instead of taking it to the warehouse in Staines we’d create a shipping area outside the ANC warehouse next to Heathrow. This meant that the workers at ANC saw the astonishing sight of five grown men pulling out comics out of one box to put them in another box, but we somehow managed to get it all done, though Nigel and myself still had to get to the terminal, check in and get on our plane. Thankfully we could count upon Martin driving like a lunatic as he dumped us outside our terminal, sprinted inside, checked in and got to the departure lounge with minutes to spare.

Once on the plane we started laughing like nutters as we’d been up for hours, hadn’t eaten all day and were now enjoying some large G & T’s. We’d managed to change in the toilets of Heathrow but we still looked worn out but never forget the healing power of gin, plus I’d managed to sneak some speed on the plane hidden in my boots which helped.

Upon arriving in Glasgow we made our way to our hotel. This is where Geoff, Martin Skidmore and Viv were staying.

copthorneglasgow

This was the Copthorne Hotel (now a Millennium Hotel) by George Square and then (and now) is a fine hotel .

Nigel and myself were staying here.

This is the Central Hotel which today is another fine hotel, but in 1990 it was rundown and falling apart. It was still a good hotel but it wasn’t the same sort of luxury, but Geoff had given a vague reason as to why Nigel and myself couldn’t stay at the Copthorne and anyhow, it wasn’t that far a walk (5-10 minutes depending on sobriety) from George Square. Anyhow, we were glad of a bed and once off our plane we headed right to the hotel to check in, get to out rooms, tart ourselves up, grab something to eat at the Central and head to the Copthorne for the evening’s merriment.

At the Copthorne we met up with Geoff, Martin and Viv who were all deeply embedded in the evening, though as Geoff was a teetotaler we could get a straight answer form him while Martin and Viv seemed to have enjoyed a small shandy or seven. Before I could hit the bar I was given the job of keeping John Wagner happy which I was only glad to do as I liked John and had known him for some years thanks to my association with AKA. Eventually in the wee small hours Nigel and myself left to go back to the Central to get some much needed sleep for what was to be a huge day the following day.

The convention itself was to be held in the City Chambers. An amazingly impressive building to hold a comic convention in.

Even more impressive was the interior.

Neptune/Trident/Apocalypse had a pitch on the top floor while the bulk of the dealers were on the lower floors and the talks, etc were scattered around the City Chambers and the Copthorne. Before getting to setting up I introduced Nigel to a full Scottish breakfast which gave us the energy to set things up, so we headed to AKA to help the lads there load up their stock and a load of Trident Comics we’d shipped to AKA that we’d sell at the con. When we got to the City Chambers we linked up with Geoff, Martin and Viv to set our pitch up. We’d got a corner so we set up a load of comics on one table and on another we were going to have signings from our creators over the weekend.

Once we set up it was a matter of sitting back and waiting for the crowds to come in and come in they did. The convention was utterly rammed with the City Chambers full of sweaty fanboys buying comics in the most opulent location I’ve ever been in for a comic convention in over 30 years. That Saturday also saw a Poll Tax demo outside in George Square which gave us an opportunity to sell loads of copies of the collected St. Swithin’s Day comic to protesters outside which was enormous fun.

stswithinsday

That first day was wildly successful.  We sold loads of Trident Comics, including selling out of St. Swithin’s Day while the interest in Toxic! was high. I’d also spent a large part of the Saturday afternoon taking the piss out of various people with John Wagner, wandering round the City Chambers chatting with people, chilling out for a while  at the bar in the Copthorne, and ending it with chatting with Poll Tax protesters to be told that there were rumours of a massive riot in Trafalgar Square at the Poll Tax demo there.

That evening was a blur, but I’d arranged a Sunday morning kickabout at Glasgow Green between Neptune and AKA (we used to regularly have Sunday morning football with the guys at AKA before I left Glasgow. You’ve not lived til you’ve seen John McShane fail to control a ball) so that didn’t stop serious drinking before heading back to the Central for a bit of sleep before meeting everyone back at the City Chambers the next morning.

The next day Nigel and myself turned up to meet Martin Skidmore who was all by himself in his football kit. i asked where Geoff and Viv were and he said he’d knocked on Geoff’s door but got a flustered reaction from Geoff as he gave Martin a story that he’d ‘slept in’ and didn’t fancy playing. Martin thought this was odd as Geoff loved football and had got us playing in a five-a-side league in Leicester, but he left in and knocked on Viv’s door but got no reply which is when Martin’s brain put 2+2 together thought ‘hang on, is Geoff fucking Viv?’ Telling me about it I initially said to Martin that Geoff was a tosser but he’d not sleep with a member of staff at essentially a business weekend hundreds of miles away from his wife and infant child? Would he?  I put it in the back of my head for the rest of the weekend

The last day was one of mopping things up. Meetings were had, things were decided and people started leaving for home, but I’d arranged to stay in Glasgow for a few more days before flying back to London and eventually Leicester. By the time I got back to work (after seeing a devastated central London) later the next week I didn’t think anything of Martin’s comments but a few weeks later it was announced that the other Martin who was one of the original three people setting Neptune up was going to leave in the summer. That came as a huge surprise that Martin was going to leave, and it was actually a bit worrying as it gave more control to Geoff.

I’d also heard that Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill were telling Geoff to put off publishing Toxic! in the spring of 1991 rather than the autumn as originally planned. Geoff was trying to push things on the publishing side far too fast, and although the distribution side was steady it wasn’t really growing. There was also gossip flying around the office and warehouse about Geoff’s extracurricular antics involving Viv who by now was attending ‘business meetings’ alone with Geoff.

By June/July things were cracking and in the next part I’ll go into the full gory details…..

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