Back to the future

Over the last month I’ve been doing physio to make myself stronger to help with the cancer recuperation and stroke recovery and it’s working a treat. I am however, bored shitless having been signed off from doing work which means days of unrelenting boredom and ennui. To pass the time I’ve been building up stock to start selling comics at conventions and marts starting from the summer so July would have been my first solo outing as a deal in oh, around 20 years. Well, bollocks to waiting. I’m back next month.

I’ve played with comics retailing for a few decades, but there’s a hole in Glasgow’s market and I intend to slip in and fill it. And yes, there is a bigger goal behind this, but considering a year ago I was wondering whether I’d be around in a year’s time I can’t really be arsed wasting yet more time.

So if you want stuff like this…

Stay tuned for further details once everything is 100% confirmed…

The joy of Action Transfers

As a child in the 1970’s we made our own fun to escape the beige drabness of a decade that’s looked at more fondly that it probably deserves. One of the ways we did that were Action Transfers, which looked a bit like this.

That’s the Space: 1999 transfer set, It was just one of many sets released by Letraset to a hungry horde of kids who’d lap them up and spend hours (well, I did) trying to work out how to position your transfers.

The concept was simple; you’d have a selection of transfers and a background to position them on. Here’s an example and one of my favourites as a kid, The Red Planet.

You also has a sheet of transfers like so…

And you end up with your own adventure. Imagine it as an early attempt to create interactive adventures without an Occulus Rift or a Playstation. They were amazingly fun, and of course disposable at the time but not with the misty haze of nostalgia in full flow they seem like a crude, but also amazingly sophisticated form of entertainment.

There’s a glorious website that comprehensively outlines the history of these transfers that is quite literally like swimming in the past, especially for what is the iconic age of transfers  for me which is the mid 1970’s. This is the era of Super Action Heroes, which is Batman, Superman, Kojak, Star Trek and many others.

The backgrounds for these transfers were amazing. I don’t know who drew them all but there’s fantastic artwork on display, not to mention some glorious 70’s gore.

See they sneaked out subversive sets like the Kung Fu one above which in today’s climate would be unthinkable to market to kids, but fuck it, it was the 1970’s.

These sets were a way to explore spacial dimensions, so you’d have to work out the best positions for the transfers which meant working out scale and perspective. You’d sometimes get hints like the New Avengers set below but most of the time you were left to explore things yourself.

Some of the sets I never got. I wish now looking at them that I did like this Black Hole set which apparently has been drawn by the creator of Spider-Man, Steve Ditko. Sadly Action Transfers went the way of many a kids entertainment in the 70’s as other forms of entertainment (mainly video games) elbowed Action Transfers out of kids attention and attempts to keep on top of tastes (I would kill to have these 2000AD inspired sets) and they passed into extinction.

35 or so years later these sets are fantastic things. If I could go back in time I’d get my younger self to buy two sets; one to use at the time and one for my future self to play with. Perhaps one day some company somewhere will bring something like these sets back?

The joy of Space:1999

I used to love Gerry Anderson shows as a kid. Thunderbirds though was never my favourite, for me it was all about Captain Scarlet, but his live action stuff for years never seemed to find favour with me when I was older. Recently I’ve been swallowing up Space:1999 on YouTube.

I loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I even loved the flares.

I especially loved the die-cast toys of the Eagle spaceships.

Oooo, look at this beauty!

And this one, though I used to lose the wee containers.

Of course being the 1970’s there were AIrfix kits with the Hawk spaceship being my favourite.

Of course the programme itself is worth it’s weight in gold, the first series especially as it had a strange melancholy feel in many of the episodes that belied it was essentially an action-adventure series on Thursday evenings on ITV. The tone is set in the first episode.

Though the flares do somewhat overwhelm.

You could get lost in the swish of Martin Landau’s flared jumpsuit.

That first series is mainly wonderful. It’s a mix of big ideas, some good scripts, and of course action, adventure and 70’s fashions.The second series less so as the story is the American audience found the first series ‘too cerebral’ so stories became lightweight and trivial. One episode even had this title.

So here’s a word of appreciation for a great (first) series, and a series which as far as I’m concerned had the best title sequence of any programme in the 1970’s.

Rumours of reboots and continuations are a regular thing but they’ll never take away from the joy that is that first season…

 

 

The long story of a death of a comic shop in Glasgow

Back in the mid to late 1990’s I was all over the place not because I was drunk and on drugs (most of the time) but because I’d more or less pulled out of the comics industry and was now working in the licensed trade in Leicester. I was also having a great time going to festivals and gigs in the Midlands, the South West and London so if anything, my time in the story of Glasgow’s comics scene was reduced to at best, fleeting cameo roles.

I’m now back living in Glasgow after 28 years partly to recuperate from a stroke and recover from cancer treatment, which has seen me get better however as I’m now signed off work I have a lot of free time which means sitting around drinking tea with some old friends and talking about comics not to mention all the gossip I’ve missed in the last decades when I was sunning myself in Bristol.In the course of all this I’ve unpicked some scabby wounds which may well be new to me, but to the people concerned are old scars they thought healed. I’m not going to go into those because frankly, it isn’t my business to repeat what I’ve been told as this blog is about trying to put up my own recollections and tell a history (where I can) of things which haven’t been told.

However a friend on Facebook pointed out this blog titled ”Death throes of a comic shop‘. It makes interesting reading to say the least and as someone who was a bit-part player in the Glasgow comics scene at the time some of it seemed, well, wrong, even libellous in places. I didn’t have any first hand accounts of the time, and I’d only recently found out the exact reasons why legendary Glasgow comic shop AKA Books and Comics went out of business in the 90’s. So I thought I’d ask people who were there at the time and got their version of the story spun in the blog and their replies were all universal in that the aforementioned blog is indeed spinning a very skewed historical record of events, and indeed, some of the people named in the blog have some good reason to ask for a right to reply at least. One or two may well find themselves reaching for a solicitors number.

If you haven’t read the blog by this point I suggest you do.There’s some parts worth highlighting though.

 This small fact brings up the thorny notion of wether or not I name people here.  Having given it a long though I have decided not to.  All the names have been changed to protect the innocent as they say.  Not sure many come out of this looking like they were ever innocent but that is for others to decide based on my description of the story above!

The UK’s libel laws are a complex mess depending where in the UK you actually are, but as Katie Hopkins will tell you, you have to be very clear in not naming people or essentially slurring their name without some good reason or proof backing you up. I know this as in one of my blogs I did just that (don’t bother looking for it, it no longer is online) but like the person I was smearing, I was a victim (of a bastard called Joshua Bonehill) so once I found out the truth I deleted the blog and apologised to the person affected. I learned a lot about libel there. The fact is you can’t just remove a letter (in this case ”John” becomes ”Jon”) while making the person clearly identifiable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the time and people being discussed. That’s libellous potentially and in the next paragraph he makes it quite clear who he is.

It is worth saying that only really three people who were involved day to day in the running of the shop have ever known the whole truth, and each of them only knows aspects of that truth. Each of us has will obviously have a coloured memory of the events I will outline. However conversations in depth with one of the others confirms pretty much everything I am going to say here. Nothing would come as a shock to him as he knows it all. The other guy, well a lot of what I am going to say will come as a shock not so much as he will find it new information but that it is information he would rather stayed hidden away. See he is a “figure” in the comic book scene. As my American friends might say he has more front than Macy’s and this might give a few people a peek behind the facade!  My business partner had been with the shop since it opened.  Fair to say he was a founding member of the Glasgow comic book scene really.

So we’ve got a story of the last days of AKA, the subsequent shop that followed it, and the collapse of that shop which lead to what is now A1 Toys in Parnie Street in Glasgow.

That story is at best a skewed version of events. At worst it’s a mix of half thruths and bullshit interjected with ego-boosting self-aggrandizement with the odd snippet of full-on truth thrown in. I think the worst of it is the way the author makes it clear exactly who it is he’s talking about by throwing in facts which will clearly identify them. This is shaky ground to say the least.

One of the local comic book artists who I had become quite good friends with was negotiating a business deal with Jon about coming on as a silent partner.  Jon was keen on this, Kolin McFeel (yeah, not real name!) was a big name in the UK comic scene, having recently completed a seminal Judge Dredd and then a Chopper story for 2000AD that had set a very high bar for others to hit.

I mean, really, really??

That said, there are fair points made. For example:

I can’t remember when it was that things got a little sour but I know that it was caused when David called our hotel from the shop.  Turns out we were in San Diego when Batman 500 had been released and our order from Titan Distributors was missing the entire order, some 200 copies of it.  Jon and I managed to find the head of Titan in the convention hall and decided to ask what the hell was going on.  At that time comics were so time sensitive we knew that unless we could get the right book at the right time at least 50% of our non-ordered sales would go, and a good few orders would be knocked back.  The idea of customer loyalty to a comic shop was a myth in those days.  Get the books on the day of release or eat the loss of sales.

This is mostly true of the time. The release of Batman #500 dates this to late summer 1993 as at this point I was working in the nearly legendary Comics and CD’s on the Gloucester Road in Bristol and I can testify to just a huge book it was. I even ended up being interviewed on local radio about it so huge was it that the real world outwith of the comics bubble was interested.

For a shop to lose that was a disaster, and with Neptune Distribution having died a horrible death the year previously, a shop then would have found their options limited which is where I quote;

During our strategy talks we discussed moving our supply business away from Titan, who were merging with Diamond and to the US based Capital distributors.  We figured out we could import and transport comics to the shop and still get a better price than buying from Titan.  So we got a copy of their trade magazine and placed an order.  Jon had dealt with them before so an account was there and I was sure they would take our order happily and gain a UK customer foothold.  One thing that I didn’t ask, and that Jon didn’t mention, was our current situation with Titan.  It was that situation that would lead to the final moments of the shop, but we will get to that later!

A wee recap of the distribution of comics is in order. Today we get comics shipped in from the States so quickly you can still smell the sweaty armpits of the blokes who loaded up the boxes onto planes in America. It wasn’t always like that. In the 80’s you’d wait weeks, even months for comics to travel the Atlantic to reach the UK. There was only one big UK distributor, Titan, run by Nick Landau and Mike Lake. In the mid 80’s to the early 90’s there was also Neptune, based in Leicester where I worked for a time after moving down from Glasgow in 1988 where I’d previously worked at AKA. In 1993 Neptune was bust and the American distributor Diamond had taken over Neptune’s accounts (Neptune and Diamond always had close links) as they made huge strides into the UK market and global domination. en eventual monopoly on distributing American comics in the UK.

In 1993 Titan were dominant. If you had other sources (and we did in Bristol for some comics) you could get a massive advantage over your competitors. People aren’t loyal on the whole and if there’s a gap in the market, or if the market can be weighted to advantage someone else then a business will do it. Sure there was a time where in the world of comics things were a tad more civil, and cities and towns that have more than one shop often see each other get on personally, but the idea of businesses doing well by each other went the way of frizzy perms and big shoulder pads in the 80’s. So in this background it’s perfectly reasonable for a business to try to fuck off their main supplier if they’re trying to fuck you off.

However things get, well, a tad libellous from here on in.

I would say to make a long story short but there is actually a word that explains what Jon had been doing with Capital.  That word was “fraud”.

‘Fraud’ is one of those things you need to be able to back up when you accuse someone of it. In this case anyone who knows who ‘Jon’ is will be querying where the author of the piece is going to provide documentary proof of this.

See, there’s a number of stories you pick up when you’re involved in an industry. I’ve told stories about people in comics on this blog. Some stories I’ve held back because they’ll be upsetting for friends or they cross a legal, and moral, line or bluntly I’d end up in the shite. The author of the blog doesn’t quite realise just how serious this stuff is or how harmful it can be, which isn’t to say they’re not allowed a voice, but be careful how you’re saying things. Which is an issue as the blog continues on as people are named, in some cases accused of things which having spoken to others who were also there (there’s an incident at the old Empire pub in Glasgow that isn’t quite as it is here) at the time.

Listen, I’m all for gossip and setting the record straight and in this case I can’t give a first hand account of all of what’s discussed on the blog but having discussed it with those who were I have to say that if you are going to discuss events be prepared to ride the ripples from them if you paint a version which doesn’t ring well with others who were there.

Or as the author of the blog says;

Over the years I have overheard my former business partner tell his stories, only the dates have been changed and I know the stories well as I heard them in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they had just happened then.  There is a “glory days” trap and he is in it.  I have no interest any more, he is part of the past and a past I am pleased to be shot of.  As we approach another anniversary of the events outlined I felt it was time to write my part down.  I am sure some would disagree with various details and some might even be offended by what I wrote but it is how I remember it happening.  As details come back to me, as anecdotes come back to me I might update this post.  If anyone who is there jogs a memory I might update as well.  Who knows, the past isn’t written in stone!

Well, here’s my attempt to ‘update’ the past. For the record some of those people mentioned in the blog will be made aware of what’s been said and they I’m sure will be only too glad to disagree with the details and put the record straight.

Time to think about the future.

As Jack Nicholson once said, ‘think about the future’.

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After a year of recovering from a stroke and now being in remission from cancer I’m faced with not quite a Year Zero reboot, but more or less a soft reboot of my life and that’s actually a wonderfully empowering thing. So I’m undergoing physio to get better after the stroke and the slipped disc though I’m in some agony after last week’s session after seeing some older chap in his 80’s smash the cross-trainer. Refusing to let my competitive streak stay quiet I decided to try to smash his time which has broken me but this is all good as it helps make me better for the future.

And what do I do in the future? A month ago I wasn’t sure. I was looking at a number of things but over the last month things have coalesced into a few things. I’m still signed off work and expect to be so until probably Easter and then I’ll be fit and able to work, at least for a while as I’ve decided to get myself back into comics. Specifically retail. There’s a large hole in the market here in Glasgow and I intend to fill it. Mainly the issue is the comic shops in Glasgow are  not really comic shops but instead are selling merchandise (toys, lots and lots of toys), don’t prioritise comics (and I don’t just mean superhero comics but the wide range of comics) or are just rank-smelling dens of shite. There was an idea I was juggling around for a shop in Bristol (where there’s also an open goal in terms of a good comic shop) a few years ago but that was rudely stopped when family problems got in the way. That idea (and business plan) can be tweaked for Glasgow.

This means I’m looking to build up stock to supplement my own collection and although I may well take a job just to pass the time until I get the full plan underway (being signed off sick and doing nothing all day is tediously boring) I’ll look to do the marts and conventions soonish once I’ve built up enough of a stock. There’s a few things to sort out before then and of course, I need to be declared fit and able to work which as said I don’t expect this side of Easter, which to be fair is quite impressive considering my near death experiences in the last year or so.

Which means there is a future. A year ago I didn’t think I’d get past the summer. Now I’m planning for what I hope will be for the next decade and longer. It’s been amazingly quick in terms of recovery, but perhaps less of the cross-trainer in the weeks to come…

The dead places of Glasgow fascinate me

Glasgow has the third oldest underground network in the world.The subway has been around since 1896, and is nicknamed ‘the Clockwork Orange’ due to the fact the line goes in a simple circle on subway maps and the trains are bright orange. I’ve recently returned to Glasgow after 28 years away and the subway still smells and sounds as it did when I was a child, but like any underground network it’s shrouded in ghosts.

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Descending into the subway is like any other in the world. You enter a subterranean world where the world above melts into a world where it seems Morlocks could lurk round every corner as the world above vanishes behind you.

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Once underground you enter a world of smells and sounds like any other.

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The subway in places links up with Glasgow’s railway system, some of which is also underground, and is also, very, very old. Some stations over the years have died leaving only their grafftii-strewn corpses to be hidden by darkness and twilight, not to mention nature reclaiming what was once hers.

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One of those stations is the Botanic Gardens. As a kid I used to explore it with the bravery only children can have in delving into places which you shouldn’t.

These places are haunted by the past, and hounded by the present. They exist as shadows of time lost with only a sign to remind people what lurks nearby.

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Dead places fascinate me. They make me think of what people did in them then before being reclaimed. They make me wonder what might happen to the world if we let nature reclaim everything as opposed to the odd station and building here and there. It fascinates me just how quickly dead buildings are reclaimed.

These places are haunted, not by ghosts of the scary kind but by ghosts of our imagination. I adore these places but even so, they’re not for the faint-hearted…

Happy birthday 2000AD

40 years ago this week I had in my hands the first issue of a new weekly boy’s adventure comic called 2000AD. It had a shite free gift as was the way with comics back then.

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The first issue featured Flesh!, a story about time-travellers coming from the future to harvest dinosaurs to help feed the future population’s desire for meat which was eagerly lapped up by me who’d lapped up the gore-soaked pages of Action. Excitement had been built up for some time as after all, Action had been neutered, and thanks to some gloriously cheesy adverts I was dying to get my hands on 2000AD.

It may look cheesy to jaded 21st century eyes but this was brilliant and along with thousands of other kids we enjoyed the first issue, and looked forward to the second which promised a new strip called Judge Dredd which surely couldn’t be as fun as Flesh! or as bizarre as the revamped Dan Dare which was no longer tired and old, but a bit disco.Whatever it was, it looked like no other comic out there in 1977.

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Of course Judge Dredd was an instant favourite as what boy wouldn’t love an ultra-violent fascist as a role model?

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1977 was a transformational year for the UK as the Queen’s silver jubilee rubbed against the growth of the Punk movement, while in the background Thatcherism bubbled away Sauron-like waiting for its moment to strike. Thanks to Pat Mills (who acted as father and midwife to 2000AD) Punk was very much written into the DNA of 2000AD and new, younger artists like Mick McMahon epitomised that new ethic.

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The Golden Age of 2000AD lasted years. For me the first 500 issues are brimming with creativity and I can’t think of a comic ever published that was so consistent in what was still basically children’s comics.

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Yet as I got older I drifted from 2000AD, especially in the 1990’s when the comic published some utter shite like Mark Millar’s Robo-Hunter. Possibly some of the worst comics I’ve ever read. In the 90’s the comics seemed burdened with bad editorial decisions or more realistically, the editors in the latter part of the 1990’s didn’t have a clue how to do their jobs hence why the comic came close to extinction.

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Yet it was saved thanks to Rebellion who cleared out the baggage, stripped the comic back to something it was previously and was left facing the 21st century looking positive. 2000ad2000 So happy birthday 2000AD. You’ve seen me through most of my life and in your own way have helped shape it and all the bad days are hopefully behind you now, and here’s hoping for another 40 years of thrills.