50 years of the Overstreet Comics Price Guide

I’ve been reading this much of this week.

The Overstreet Price Guide is and essential for dealers and fans for 50 years now, and when I’ve been a ful-time dealer it was something I always had in my box of stuff I’d carry around with me in the shop or at conventions. It wasn’t always right, sometimes it’d be horribly overpriced but as a reference book it was essential though it never dealt with UK prices (I’ve often wondered why Overstreet never did a UK guide) which meant going on memory or relying on the often sketchy UK Price Guide Duncan McApline produces.

But 50 years for what was a glorified fanzine (it grew out of the fandom that sprung up of EC Comics, and in fact it’s often missed how EC drove what we know today as fandom) is extraordinary, as are the top reams of talent that have produced covers for it over the decades who’ve helped the Overstreet guide what it is. This celebration is a fascinating read of the backstory of the guide, plus the comics that have made it as after all, people really buy this to see what their copy of X-Force #1 is worth.

There’s some nice articles reprinted here too. Especially of interest is the interview with Bob Kane from 1989 which in hindsight misses out some large bits of history but is still fascinating, plus the article on ‘patriotic’ (some might say jingoistic) covers is nice, but most of the book just celebrates Bob Overstreet and what he’s done for comics for 50 years and although the guide is normally a book for the hardcore fan or dealer only, this is a more accessible book and a lovely bit of history. Go check it out if only for the galleries of beautiful covers…

Dave Prowse has passed away…

Dave Prowse has sadly died and with that goes a large chunk of my childhood.

Of course his role as Darth Vader is what he’ll leave as his main legacy (no actor since has given that sense of physical power mixed with pain that Prowse did) but for a generation of kids we knew him as the Green Cross Code Man, who was a superhero created to teach British kids road safety.

Even then he was dubbed as his native Bristol accent was found ‘laughable’ by some.

Though they eventually let him speak in his own voice.

I first met Prowse when he visited my school as the Green Cross Code Man to do his thing, and I was in awe of how huge the guy was. He seemed 6 foot in every direction. This was just before Star Wars, so few knew what was coming for him but he’d been an actor for some time mainly in Hammer films and odds and sods playing the heavy, but imagine my confusion when I got older and saw him in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

As I got even older and started working in comics, I’d see him at conventions signing for hours and somewhere in a box I still have some Marvel Star Wars issues he signed around 92 or 93. By this point he’d spectacularly fallen out with George Lucas, and Prowse was shunned from official Star Wars conventions, so he made his wage from going to every other show out there around the world. I’d see him frequently in the 90s and 00s with a long queue waiting to for things to be signed.

I’d see Prowse everywhere during this time; at shows, or coming out the Empire Gym he owned when I lived in St. Paul’s in Bristol, or his picture hanging by the bar in the glorious late night eating and drinking den, Renato’s in the centre of Bristol.

Last time I saw him at a show he looked frail, so his convention appearences declined and he’d be working online sending out autographed pictures stating ‘DAVE PROWSE IS DARTH VADER’ because he was.He gave years of joy for generations and he’ll always be Darth Vader.

And the Green Cross Code Man of course…

One Dove’s lost second album?

One Dove were a band who in 1993 should have been enormous, but through a series of problems, mainly caused by the record company you wanted them to sound nothing like the dreamy dub/pop/indie/dance fusion sound they’d become known for. Also there were a load of great new bands flying around in 1993 in those pre-Britpop years and just after the early 90’s Grebo scene started dying out. It was a crowded time but for me One Dove gave me the soundtrack of a great summer in Bristol in 1993.

That summer was hot, sunny and brilliant. It felt like something was brewing, but we didn’t know what yet however we lived in the time and fuck me it was fun. And One Dove was my music of choice that summer as I played that first album to death. Sadly the album flopped though a cult following did emerge, and for a brief time in 95/96 there were rumours of a second album but nothing happened as by now the band had split up with vocalist Dot Allison going off to sing with the likes of Massive Attack.

So last week this video below popped into my YouTube feed. It isn’t an actual second album but is made up of demo tracks so there’s some rough edges which a good producer would iron out, however it sounds glorious in places. Untouched is a lost classic as is Stay, though the latter track is still a bit rough at the edges but that adds to the charm. Had this been released in 96/7 it’d have been swallowed up by the fagend of Britpop when crap like Kula Shaker and Mansun were an actual thing.

I’m amazed to find this though after decades of trying (I once spent a day going through Napster once trying to find a rumoured copy of the second album) so join with me and enjoy what could have been…

Return to lockdown…

Midnight tonight the city of Glasgow goes back into lockdown, except for me who have now been classed by my employer as an ‘esssential worker’ so I get to larp as Charlton Heston in the Omega Man going through deserted streets for the next fortnight.

Truth is I expect the lockdown to last longer as frankly, too many arseholes are ignoring the rules but they tend to be the first complaining loudly, but here we are again but in the cold, damp darkness that is a Glasgow winter as opposed to spring/summer. This time it could push people over the edge as after all, we were never designed to be this antisocial as a species and as Covid-19 loves people, it means Christmas could be cancelled for a lot of people this year. It could be bleak this winter indeed.

But I’m somehow promoted to a ‘key worker’ so clap for me…

It’s not bad being Scottish

For 22 years Scotland’s mens team have failed to qualify for any international competition. It has been agony. Last night it stopped thanks to a stupedous performance in Serbia and now, we’re going to the delated finals of Euro 2020 causing this reaction in Sky TV’s studio.

And this is fairly representative of living rooms across the country, mine included.

So it is no longer shite being Scottish. It’ actually quite fun.

A short gory history of AKA Books and Comics and the second shop of horrors

I’ve mentioned AKA Books and Comics many times before on this blog and how it played a crucial part in shaping Glasgow, and indeed, Scotland’s comic scene in a legacy that last today. What I’ve mentioned maybe in passing is the short-lived AKA 2 shop in the West End which lasted from 1986 til 86 before it was finally dragged out behind the bins and shot.

There’s little evidence the place existed but here’s an AKA advert from the 1985 Albacon (Glasgow’s then annual science fiction convention) programme booklet.

Based near the then new SECC in Finnieston the shop were it to exist now would be in the heart of the most arguably thriving part of Glasgow and certainly one which is the most active. It is a great location in 2020 but in 1985 Finnieston was a burnt out post-industrial husk and even though it was near Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the West End it didn’t bring the trade all concerned hoped but it was cheap rent, plus it meant Pete Root (one of AKA’s owners) could vanish to the shop merrily bagging and pricing to his hearts content.

The building was shared with Bob Shaw who was a major figure in Glasgow’s SF scene, and had co-owned what became Futureshock on the Woodlands Road. Bob by this point had his finger in many, many pies so used the upstairs part as an office/workspace and indeed, I’d often be there til late producing badges or helping in putting together magazines, or whatever Del-Boyesque scheme he’d got going this week. Truth is Pete was no fan of Bob, neither were the other owners John McShane and Bob Napier, but needs must and Bob did actually bring people to the shop in his own odd little way.

The shop was huge. It is in the same location where the Sandyford Surgery exists today, so you can see the attraction in the building. Downstairs was also cold as there was no central heating, so gloves and a scarf were often essential during the winter months as it’d get cold and you’d hardly be chasing after customers. It’d be a moment of dread if asked to go up and take some stuff for the shop but I’d often go up as it’d be nearer home plus I could pretend I was cool hanging around the West End. So things ticked over for a while then one night while making badges one of the lads was making a cup of tea and discovered something which was there was a false wall built into the kitchen area. Behind this false wall was a room. After some fiddling the door was prised open wide enought to see what was in the small, dark room.

On the floor was a mattress, some bedding and pointing down at the mattress was a clunky old video camera, with some more what looked like clothes and a box ot small cupboard just visible. The quick realisation was obvious that here was Bob’s homemade porn studio. We knew he’d ‘indulged’ in porn films as one of our group had the misfortune of seeing one but we never thought we’d actually stumble across the place of production. This brought up a dilemma as Pete and John had to know because this was dodgy, but we all sat on it working out I suppose if we were old and mature enought to deal with it. At the same time some dubious people were turning up to the shop, plus one day Bob was involved in a fight with a visitor upstairs so things were clearly more than just a dodgy businessman pushing his luck so Pete and John were told. After that the shop whimpered on bleeding money until the plug was finally pulled and Pete returned to the Virginia Galleries to bag and price to his hearts content while John’s liquid lunches would often last days.

As an idea it was ahead of its time by 30 years. I currently live not far from that location in buildings which used to be disintegrating tenements but are now bright newish flats, and the area which then used to be full of bookies and dubious pubs are now full of gastropubs and boutique shops selling all manner of things to a mix of relatively wealthy yuppies and students from Glasgow University. A shop there now would clean up. Not so in 1985. As for Bob he’s still around somewhere, and though AKA as a shop is now long gone what AKA2 taught everyone was not to overstretch themselves by creating a money pit with a pornographer. In fact the death of AKA2 pushed AKA into what I think was it’s strongest, most influential period from 1986 to 1990 as it soldified what it was while bringing on board customers who in some cases shaped the face of comic books to this day.

More of that another time though.

Walk out to winter

Like many of us I’m dreading the forthcoming winter. Covid, regular flu and Brexit not to mention all the pain and anguish of the year means things don’t look very rosy at all, especially as there’s a horrible, nasty chance Donald Trump remains president of the USA which means globally we’re fucked.

So for October I’m going to remain upbeat as much as possible and will be trying to blog only fun, interesting stuff while avoiding gloom and misery before the winter bites hard. To start in that mood here’s nearly eight minutes of Roddy Frame being brilliant.

Life in the home office

The last few days I’ve been preparing for finally working from home but I have a small issue of space due to the sheer amount of comics sitting around waiting for a comic convention to sell them, once of course we’ve worked Covid out.

Bascially where am I going to stick my work PC?

And that’s just part of it. So somehow I’ve got to clear enough room for a PC, and a workphone plus space to actually work. Interesting times lie ahead…

What I thought of Lost in Vagueness

There’s an increasingly rich stream of crowdfunded documentaries about often incredibly niche subjects, but with stories that need to be told. Lost in Vagueness is on the whole, one of those films though it isn’t without flaws which often come from such crowdfunded projects but Sophia Ollins creates a film worthy to be added to the small genre of films about Glastonbury Festival.

The film tells the story of Roy Gurvitz who arguably saved Glastonbury in the early 2000’s as the festival was crossing over from the anarachic free for all of the previous years, to the more organised 21st Century juggernaut we know of today. To understand what Gurvitz did it’s best ot understand what Glastonbury was at the end of the century.It was breaking into the mainstream thanks mainly to the BBC and Guardian hitching themselves to the festival as festivals became not just a thing for young folk, but of alll ages which to be fair had been something Glastonbury had done.

In 2000, the first year Gurvitz ran his section fo the festival called Lost Vagueness, the festival nearly fell apart. Tens of thousands of people got over the fence, crime was rife and infrastructure in parts of the site collapsed. The festival took a year off in 2001 to work out what the hell to do as they’d never get a licence if something wasn’t done, so the Superfence came in which kept out people so well that in 2002 and 2003 the site felt, well, empty compared to the past. There came a problem that tickets were not selling out which seems insane in a time when it’s a fight to get even in a queue online for a ticket.

So Gurvitz was given free rule to do what he liked and he did. A big chunk of festival goers clicked onto what he was doing which mixed burlesque, performance art, dance, live music and general insanity. I first went into Lost Vagueness in 2002 spending a night of debauchery which led to a very fragile Sunday, but what he’d done is capture all the lunacy you’d get across the site into one area and let some brilliantly creative people run riot. And so the area grew in reputation outwith the festival itself as Lost Vagueness started organising their own events, as well as working for large companies and organisations. Effectively in a few years it became a large company worth millions.

Gurvitz himself came out of the Traveller scene of the 80’s after leaving home at a young age like so many Travellers did. To have him where he was seemed unnatural, and indeed looking at the film seeing Gurvitz turn into an abusive boss demanding jobs be done just loooks painful. Perhaps if Gurvitz had delegated more and become a person who inspired then perhaps things wouldn’t have ended so badly as they did in 2007. That year’s festival was a wet and windy one which is hardly unusual but word from Lost Vagueness wasn’t great. Normally you could get in on the Thursday and walk around but we tried and couldn’t get in. The reason being Gurvitz was threatening to pull out of the entire festival and although this didn’t happen, and in fact I ended up having another great time there, the end of Lost Vagueness was happening all around us.

Ollins tells us the story of Lost Vagueness, and of Gurvitz’s family life which was less than happy which lead to him not seeing his family for 20 years when they tracked him down via an internet search. Where the film works is this history of Gurvitz and how he changed not just Glastonbury but a large part of British culture, but where it fails is it meanders at times, for example what exactly is Gurvitz doing now which is only skimmed over here. A bit more about hos family would have a bit more of an arc, but these are minor issues of what is a fine addition to the small numbers of Glastonbury films.

Happy 50th birthday Glastonbury

Fifty years ago today a farmer in Somerset had an idea to raise a bit of extra cash by putting on one of those pop festivals which were popular at the time on his farm. The Kinks were booked to headline but they pulled out to be replaced by some up and coming band called T-Rex. A few thousand people turned up at the first event to enjoy free milk and hog roast. Over the years tens of thousands more have said they were at the first festival in the same way the first Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club seems to have 20k people there, but that first festival set everything off. For Michael Eavis it took him nearly a decade to embrace the festival on his terms which he’s shaped into what it is today.

 

50 years later the festival is a juggernaut which has been in my life now for nearly 30 years, and even though it is essentially postponed due to Covid-19 I see it remaining part of my life, but it all started humbly 50 years ago with free milk and Glam Rock…

And oh, assuming next year’s festival goes ahead there’s another 50th anniversary which can be celebrated so lets hope we can do that next summer.