King of pain

Yesterday I had loads of plans. I was going to wait for some comics to be delivered, then a quick jaunt down the road to the SECC for MCM Scotland to check it out, and mayb e even pick up some deals. Those plans changed around 11am when I had a jolting spasm up my back, which for the last three years or so is something I’m used to, but this literally fucked me up. I dropped a couple of paracetamol and lay down for half an hour before expecting the drugs to kick in which would let me make the short journey to the convention.

Except the pain got worse, plus I was unable to actually move. Yeah, the drugs kicked in easing things somewhat but I felt like I’d been given a kicking that wasn’t going to end. Again, I tried getting up but again, no joy as everything from the chest down was in agony, so I thought ”fuck it”, and took a couple of solpadol (yes I know this was risky) to make myself functional so I could go out. The solpadol did ease the pain but my right hip was now not really functioning so I couldn’t get out of bed, so I’ll give it another half hour I thought.

Around 3pm I came to realing the day was more or less gone and that although the pain was less now, my right hip and leg felt useless, and upon trying to get up I struggled to make it to the couch, let alone the kitchen to make something to eat, or even a cup of tea, but I struggled a bit and managed to sit down trying to chill out and focus on something.

See there’s the thing about chronic pain; it fucks your life up & the knowledge it isn’t going away isn’t fun either so you get fed up because what should have been a fun day at a comic convention picking up cheap deals and running into friends turned into a day of agony and discomfort. I’m fed up of it but hey ho, this is the new normal I need to actually adjust to maybe someday.

On the other hand yesterday did send me down a YouTube rabbit hole so I now know everything there is to know about the Manchester Pusher who is not what you think it might be…

Trying to catch a Black Kiss

I’ve been asked loads and loads to expand upon my series of blogs about Neptune Distribution and the UK comics scene of the 80’s and early 90’s when things were changing so rapidly, This is a shortish story about Howard Chaykin’s infamous erotic horror comic Black Kiss and the state of censorship then, and indeed, now not to mention the way history has been rewritten…


Black Kiss was a 12-issue mini series from the mind of Howard Chaykin published in 1988 by Vortex Comics. Billed as an ‘erotic horror story’, it promised to be one of the biggest selling independent titles of the year as Chaykin was hot off his revamp of The Shadow for DC, plus he’d recently returned to rescue American Flagg! after his departure some years previously. At this time he made up part of a trio of creators (Alan Moore and Frank Miller being the other two) who would be vocal about censorship in comics, and especially the situation at DC which was becoming censorious with a threatened ratings system.

The late 80’s were a hard time. Hard right wing governments were in place in the US and UK with both pushing a hard line in censorship, though the UK didn’t have a constitution to protect it from the worst of the censors demands.  In the middle of this we were trying to ship comics into the UK which were to be blunt, filth. Wonderful, glorious filth not to mention splendidly violent (which didn’t seem to trigger customs as much) but what customs were especially looking for was sexualised violence. Black Kiss was full of sexualised violence, plus it was published sealed in a plastic bag so it was literally targeting itself out for customs.

Customs then was a bit like playing Russian Roulette. On a good day and in certain airports, you’d be able to ship anything passed without a problem. On bad days they’ll have you sitting there for hours, maybe eventually releasing your entire shipment, sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll keep a box. Sometimes they wouldn’t give a fuck. What was weird working for Neptune was our boss Geoff was a rabid Tory and Thatcherite, but he was also against censorship so we’d bring stuff over that our competitor Titan wouldn’t, and in the case of Black Kiss they’d had their shipment held at customs while ours sailed through. Happy days!

We would do a number of things to get our copies through. We’d wrap them in newspaper, or hide them in a box of Disney comics (”Oh Mickey, what are you going to do with THAT!!’), or we’d distract customs while I lifted a box from the to be screened pile to the screened pile.  We risked our freedom for comics!

It didn’t always work. Customs would open up boxes, rip open a copy and decide that one erect penis was obscene (they’d already nicked a copy of Love and Rockets for showing an erect penis around the same time) and to this day I can’t work out why most societies have an issue with erections as half the planet has had one at some point, and the other half has some experience with them so in comics made by adults for adults there shouldn’t be an issue but it was a red flag to customs.

Black Kiss did indeed top sales charts in the UK regardless with Chaykin proving himself a creator at the top of his game again, but in the years since both Chaykin and Black Kiss have been airbrushed from the history of the time. Histories of the time will mention Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus, but not Black Kiss because I imagine most modern comics historians find it seedy or something.  However the mainstream today is full of comics that would make Chaykin’s book look tame in terms of the sex and especially the violence. Sure, there’s no erections or such but it stops short of being honest enough to be pornography plus there’s a glossy sheen to the violence, especially sexualised violence, that even makes an auld liberal like myself often baulk.

What we did though at the time was to push what was and wasn’t acceptable to bring into the UK because the truth is we struggled all the time with bringing comics into the UK because some arsehole in customs might play things by the book, or someone decided that a title should be seized because it had a zombie or tits on the front, or in some cases, zombie tits on the cover. The more middle class of you reading this might be thinking ‘ah well, it’s only the exploitation market’ but the fact is adults have the right to read what they want, and some genuine works of art (and I consider Black Kiss to be such a thing) were caught up in this government led witchhunt. Had there only been one distributor of comics to the UK as there is today then we may not have had these challenges to the system shipped in, and in fact things today would be different.

And for all the faults of today I’d rather we as adults choose what to read or watch rather than have to play games so people can make their own minds up.

Boris Johnson is a lying crook

The UK supreme court ruled that Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament is illegal, and that the Prime Minster lied to the Queen for his reasons for suspension. In short, if the UK was a functioning, adult democracy then right now Johnson would be hounded out of Downing Street, out of public life and probably facing some form of prosecution for not just what he’s done since becoming PM, but his role in Brexit.

But we don’t have a functioning democracy. So Johnson will sail on by playing up the ‘the establishment are trying to block YOUR Brexit’ to Brexiters, while at the same time desperately making a deal with Nigel Farage so the Tory PArty can win the next election.

Which they will because all of us in our wee echo chambers celebrating today don’t realise just how determined Brexiters are, and the thing is, they don’t give a fuck. They want everything to burn if it gets them the Brexit they want.

So we’re fucked but at least for a while we’re in a place where we’ve got some sort of hope…

30 years of Tim Burton’s Batman

The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.


The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.


If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to  the campy TV show.

Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.

I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.

Leicester Square  had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here. 

Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.

But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.

The genius of Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez is basically, a comic genius. Along with his brother Gibert they’ve been producing Love and Rockets for four decades of consistanly brilliant comics. His main story is called Locas, the story of Maggie, Hopey and a bunch of Californian Punks and misfits  but unlike mainstream comics, these characters grow old, so for folk of my generation we’re around the same age as Maggie and Hopey as they struggle with middle age.

Hernandez also drew one of the best comics covers of all time with issue24 of Love and Rockets.


Recently Hernandez completed an interview for Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor’s YouTube channel, and it is an interview fans should watch as it really is fascinating.

Most of all though you need to buy Love and Rockets trades and catch up with one of the best comics ever produced.

Five years since Scottish independence was lost.

Five years ago today Scotland voted to stay in the UK and it all went to fucking hell afterwards. The Unionist promises worked and people decided that remaining in the UK would preserve our place in the EU, protect jobs, the NHS and give us the biggest, bestest devolved Parliament in the multiverse. Of course all the promises were bullshit and people very quickly realised they were conned, and those who didn’t felt like this chap at the start of the video here.

But the Yes vote got 45% based off the back of no mainstream media support. None of the main three Westminster parties wanted independence so they combined into one Frankenstein’s Monster called Better Together fought tooth and nail with Labour activists (many of these same activists now plead for a second referendum on Brexit) telling pensioners their pension would be gone or they’d not get blood or tissue transplants, but even with that Yes got 45%. The majority of the English left failed to remember their internationalism or the meaning of solidarity so decided to campaign for perpetual Tory rule upon Scotland, and the entire force of the UK establishment came down on Scotland.

And the Yes vote still got 45%.  Five years on that fact is still remarkable. A campaign built on people battering the streets, chapping doors and going where ordinary politicians never would, scared the living hell out of the British establishment. Five years on, Brexit is here, and polls are slowly shifting for Yes as people realise just what the British state is, what Brexit really means and how Scotland’s place in the world is under serious threat as is its hard won parliament. No wonder the Unionist side are in clear terror because imagine what’ll happen in a campaign where Yes has more support from people who realise the UK is over and the future lies in the four nations of the UK independently working together leaving behind the trappings, and crimes, of the past for a new, fresh start in a safer world.

Or we can become independent to be an island of sanity on an island full of lunatics.

End of the day it’ll be our choice. Five years later it lies with us. Let’s not fuck it up next time.


What I thought of Absolute Carnage and other comics

In which this is the latest of a series of occasional blog talking about recent comics, and to start the big Marvel crossover event since the one they had in the spring, Absolute Carnage. Written by Donny Cates and drawn by Ryan Stegman this teams Spider-Man and Venom up against Carnage in a story that is virtually incomprehensible if you’ve not been reading Cates’s run on Venom, or dipped in and out of various Spider-Man titles over the years.


If you don’t want to dive into Wikipedia, Cates does include pages of exposition in the first issue explaining what’s going on as Eddie Brock brings Spidey up to speed with what’s going on but it’s a scene that kills the story stone dead. Prior and post this scene, the comic is a pretty average superhero title with lots of fights as one would expect from a massive crossover event. The problem with these events now is they’re weighted down with so much continuity that they have to have these scenes to explain to reading just what the fuck is going on.

And what is going on is that Venom and Spider-Man have to fight loads of Carnage controlled symbiotes who are out to kill as many people as possible. It is basically what you’d expect, though Ryan Stegman’s art is nice, plus he can tell a story which is a sadly decreasing talent among many Marvel/DC artists. This is ordinary stuff, but there is one great scene at the end of the overlong exposition scene which shows Cates is capable of doing more than he is here.

Which brings me onto Silver Surfer Black.


Written by Cates and drawn by Tradd Moore, the story is a typically angst-ridden Surfer story, which most Silver Surfer stories are. Again this spins out of another Cates written title, The Guardians of the Galaxy, to tell this story of the Surfer fighting an old evil. There’s nothing spectacular about the writing but dear me, the art is extraordinary stuff.


Moore is a definite talent,  and his work here veers from surrealism to expressionism to whateeverism. It really is like watching a talent hit his prime, and Marvel need to be applauded for releasing this in the autumn in the same treasury format they released Ed Piskor’s X-Men work.

Meanwhile over at DC Comics, Brian Bendis is writing Event Leviathan, another crossover event wich also relies upon knowing lots of continuity but less so here as Bendis is crafting a detective story so much of the exposition flows better here, but it’s still a crossover that reliesupon characters stopping what they’re doing and telling others the plot.


Bendis is a good solid writer, but hasn’t bothered to push himself in over a decade and he doesn’t here, but this is still decent enough stuff though it is Alex Maleev’s art which drags this up from the usual DC crossover. I especially love his version of The Question.

The problem with crossovers in 2019 is they give publishers a healthy sales boost during the spring and summer when they’re traditionally fighting against other streams of entertainment. Quality tends to go out the window but here at least, there’s three examples of good to great artists showing what they can do.

And finally, The Wicked and the Divine #45.


Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s superb comic comes to an end with a sort of coda set in the future when the gods are old and can mourn their dead. It is a firm, definate end. Over the coruse of the run Gillen and McKelvie carved a story which criticised and celebrated modern culture, society and the comic itself  as an artform. As a comic it was one which did a lot but recently never quite got the plaudits it deserved but it was one of the best published this decade.

It is a shame the market goes wild for an uninspiring crossovers while comics which try new things build a solid audience without the aid of empty crossovers. As a comic I wish more tried to explore the medium as The Wicked and the Divine did.

And that’s it. Another blog soon about some of the stuff clogging up comics shop shelves…

The joy of diving into back-issue comics

Here’s a brutal fact. Most comics are crap and not worth the price on the cover. As a semi-occasional dealer this is breaking one of the rules of comic dealers which is not to downplay what you have, but no, really, most comics end up slowly rotting somewhere because they weren’t bought, or over-ordered, or just crap. Dealers who have been around a while however are a teasuretrove of delights as their over-stocks could be utter gems, or their crap something you find to be a diamond.

Back in the days of Bristol’s nearly remembered, semi legendary comic shop Comics and C.D’s, I’d spend hours upstairs in the warehouse raking through endless long boxes to decide the fate of many a comic from a Destroyer Duck to Alpha Flight through to Wild Dog as to whether they lived on in the back issues proper or ended up relegated to the 50p boxes. Today most shops sales stock tends to be New 52 crap and recent stuff which was over-ordered which might, one day, be worth a pound.

The below is a great video of Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor and friends searching through the dollar boxes of a local shop for diamonds and they find many a diamond for next to nothing.

Even as a bitter, old, entrenched old bastard like myself feels a spark when finding something gloriously cheap. I mean I’d kill to pick those Jack Kirby 2001 comics up for a buck each but on this side of the Atlantic it isn’t going to happen. Nobody over here is that public spirited!

I bring a few boxes of overstocks/crap to the bigger shows I do. I do throw some gems in there as a public service but you’ve got to be fast or you’ll miss them. Come along next year at the Edinburgh show and you’ll see what I mean. Til then buy more comics, and search out those diamonds in the rough…

A quick word about 9/11

Today is the 18th year since the 9/11 attacks in America. It has dawned on me that for a generation of adults from 18-25 have no real experience of the event itself being too young for it to register, and also they have no idea of a world where the global situation wasn’t as chaotic as this. Yet at the same time they’ve been shaped by those images of 9/11 easily found on YouTube and elsewhere so for me it isn’t a coincidence that things like found footage horror is so popular when much of it looks like footage from that day.

The thing about being glued to the TV that (the internet on that day was up and down, so messageboards were the only real way to pass on what little information there was) all it really was that first night was talking heads basically being stunned.

BBC switched into doing what they’re good at, ITV was a confused mess and Sky was a shitshow thanks to Kay Burley. This though was our transition from the 20th century to the 21st. It made all of us who lived through any of the Cold War, and who saw the end of that thinking the days of terror were over that it was back but this time we had no idea of where it’d lead us.

As it is it’s led us to Donald Trump, Brexit, a bloodbath in Syria, Yemen and much of the Middle East as well as an unending war in Iraq and Afghanistan as it slowly dawns on us we’re living in the sort of future dystopia we thought we’d never live through in our middle age.

So maybe it is better to be young enough not to be burdened by the memories of when there was a better time, or at least a time less fucked than this one.

In praise of John Byrne’s Superman

If you talk to most comics fans they’ll reel off the big turning points of comics in the 80’s. Watchmen, Dark Knight, Maus will be first out the block. Maybe Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, possibly Love and Rockets, maybe even Crisis on Infinite Earths which did kick DC Comics back to life. Few will mention John Byrne’s run on Superman from 1986 to 1988 which is a pity as this showed not only to handle Superman, but how to revamp a character by bringing in newer, updated elements while staying faithful to the roots. Not an Alan Moore style total reimagining,  but something fresh and old at the same time.


And it is forgotten how huge Byrne’s Superman was. The mainstream media picked up on it which helped turn Superman from a comic which barely registered on most people’s radar to the essential purchase if you were a superhero comic reader, or indeed, just a reader of comics.


See, for most people in 1986, Superman was one of four, maybe five superheroes (the others being Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk and Wonder Woman) the general public knew on sight. Everyone knew who Superman was, and the idea John Byrne was revamping him so that anyone could jump on board from Man of Steel #1 and get what was going on. Which they did. And it sold bucketloads. True, shops did over-order and you can spot how long a dealer has been in business by how many copies of Superman #1 they’re selling cheap, but the fact Superman titles were selling was extraordinary.


Byrne played it right. He seriously depowered Superman so he could be beaten in a fight but a villian who wasn’t as powerful as a God, plus he made Clark Kent likeable and interesting. Byrne also slowly bled in the scale of the DC Universe, so eventually crossovers happened and Superman became a Big Thing in DC’s titles again.

For a few years Byrne crafted some great little superhero tales,  and for me it’s his run on Action Comics that show off how to do the team-up book (I’ll skim over the dreadful Big Barda issue) while keeping it always accessible but editoralstarted making clear demands of him which came to a head over a stoyline where Superman had to kill General Zod; a decision which split the readership apart.


Reading this 30 years later all of it seems odd as superheroes now kill all the time, but this was a Big Deal. To be honest, Byrne had written himself into a quandry so killing Zod was the only option, but it was his last big contribution to Superman that still lingers on today.

After this Byrne’s time was past anyhow, Sure, things like Next Men sold, and his Spider-Man run for Marvel later in the 90s was fun,  but he wasn’t as box-office as he was. The industry had moved on and he was no longer the sales draw he was as tends to happen to many a creator. However his Superman run changed things. It showed how Superman could, and possibly should be done, while making readable comics which brought in tens of thousands of new readers who had a few years of fun before Superman slowly became over-powered and what he was again. But it was still Byrne’s character. That mix of Christopher Reeve and Byrne’s idea of what a superhero should be never really changed even to today, where the version of Superman (although long since bastardised) is still drawing upon what Byrne did for a few years in the 80’s.

So give it a try and the credit it deserves.