Attack of the West End Trendies

I live in a nexus of places in Glasgow. One of those places is the West End of the city famed for people with accents that pay homage to the idea of being from Glasgow and ‘West End Trendies’, that is people like this that Limmy takes the piss out of in the below video.

Or indeed, now trendy and famous comic artist Frank Quitely in his Electric Soup days with his Wendy the West End Trendy strip.

About a minute’s walk from my flat is Finnieston, the trendiest of all West End trendy areas where one can quite literally wade waist deep in people drooling about this week’s new craft ale or that antique dress they saw. It displays the sort of pretension that makes Stokes Croft in Bristol look like Chelmsford on a Saturday night when Chelsea are at home.

On the whole these slaves to fashion are relatively harmless, but I’ve been warned of the ”ironic’ Buckfast drinker since coming back to Glasgow, and today on the train home from work I saw one in the wild for the first time.It was a sight to see someone in their best hipster jumper sip from a bottle of Buckfast while braying at his equally repellent friend brayed back at him. Fortunately I had to get off before I threw up my pelvis but seriously, if you’re ‘ironically’ drinking Buckfast then you’re just a bit of a dick. I can just about tolerate all the other bits of wankiness, but this whole ‘let’s play at being poor’ shtick is a game for pricks.

Next time I get sniffy at people who stand around by entrances looking lost while blocking the way in/out. Grrrrr…..

Is a monopoly on comics distrbution in the UK a good thing?

‘Geek’ culture is an a zenith right now with comics now seen all over the place, but back in the distant days of the 1980’s things were different. Comics were still very much a minority medium, and the comic book a niche product for mainly children and collectors; however by the late 80’s the seeds of today’s ‘Geek’ culture were sown when the UK’s direct market exploded after the boom created by work such as Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and in the run-up to Tim Burton’s Batman film, the industry hit what was considered by some at the time, as a peak.

Before I go on it is best to explain things in a bit more detail which may get a wee bit dry so stick with me here. The direct market in the UK took years to build up as comic shops slowly appeared (albeit normally as parts of a wider SF/fantasy bookshop) during the 1970’s in cities like London, Bristol and Edinburgh. In the early 1980’s comic shops started to really spring up with the growth of the American direct market, thanks partly to Titan Distributors ensuring there was a distributor of American comics based in the UK. In the mid-1980’s a number of competitors to Titan sprung up so there was nothing like the monopoly we have today where you only get your new comics via Diamond Comic Distributors.

American distributors like Bud Plant and Mile High dabbled with direct distribution to UK shops, but the issue was one of logistics. It wasn’t til American distributor Glenwood Distributing started air-freighting comics direct from the printers that it became possible to consider actually beating Titan at their game as they just relied mainly on sea-freight, or shipping comics from a third party outwith the printer. For the UK this meant that from 1985 onwards there were a number of distributors pushing to break Titan’s grip on what was a growing market in the UK, however it was Neptune Distribution run by Geoff Fry based in Leicester that broke the deadlock. As an ex-employee I go into details of Neptune’s history here, so go read those blogs for a more in-depth history of Neptune’s rise and fall, but what is important here is that by 1987 Neptune were knocking great big chunks out of Titan’s grip on the UK market.

Here’s where I get to something that’s a tad controversial. Titan and Forbidden Planet were linked by having the same owners in Mike Lake and Nick Landau creating an obvious conflict of interest. After all,how do you stop a distributor delivering to your customer base first potentially taking more business away from your company? Simple solution; start expanding the Forbidden Planet chain. This ended up causing a battled between Neptune and Titan that I outlined here. Then the editorial below was published in Fantasy Advertiser, published by Neptune and sold in Forbidden Planet. This was written solely by Geoff Fry but to this day I stand by the jist of it.

neptune-conflict-of-interest

When Mike Lake apparently read this in FP’s store then in New Oxford Street, apparently he went off his head with rage because this one editorial nailed the problem with having a distributor also acting as a retailer. They could use what should be confidential information to buy a business advantage in an area and they could unfairly compete with other shops by offering prices at wholesale prices (this happened when FP opened in Bristol in 1993) ensuring they undercut the competition. It should also be pointed out that publishers were not aware of this conflict of interest. I know of at least three retailers who pointed out to people from DC and Marvel what was going on, including one case where Mike Lake was asked to leave a DC retailers meeting when it was pointed out he also represented a distributor.

As I’ve outlined in my blogs Neptune did what it could to try to level the playing field but after Neptune’s implosion and subsequent purchase by Diamond the UK market started to be, frankly, less diversified than it is now to the point of being less adventurous. The reason for this is simple. Once Titan/FP had its hands round the neck of the market it squeezed so smaller titles that they or ourselves at Neptune may have taken on were dropped. Some shops also couldn’t compete with having a wholesaler who also acted as their main competitor which led to shops closing across the UK in the 90’s which to be fair wasn’t just the fault of FP/Titan as the speculator bubble of the 90’s burst taking a lot of people and businesses with it. In 1992 after swallowing up the corpse of Neptune, Diamond bought out Titan leaving the UK market to be served by one distributor deciding what they stock which in effect unnaturally shapes the market in the same way that say, having Virgin Trains running a train network on the basis of profit unnaturally shapes the market.

The title of this blog asks if a monopoly on comics distribution a good thing? It clearly isn’t. We’ve seen an industry grow beyond belief in the last decade with ‘geek’ culture being smeared everywhere yet the retail market in the UK has been shaped in the most unnatural way to barely any yelp from most of the so-called ‘journalists’ of the British comics scene who are more interested in self-progression so for decades have let this rotting sore in the industry fester. True, one or two have touched on this in the past and the Forbidden Planet situation but it remains one of those things that folk like me talk about in bars and coffee shops with others of our generation wistfully wondering why it all went so wrong when it could have went so right.

For me a more diverse, interesting industry comes with wholesalers who will play fair let alone taking risks as we’re now in a state where the Diamond catalogue is a minefield of variant covers and tedious new superhero comics with little new or exciting because once a monopoly is secure you can do anything. Yes, shops like Page 45 in Nottingham and Gosh! in London do what they can to show the comics industry is a diverse thing, but while there’s only one distributor we have a situation where any diversity is hard to find and if you’re a small press publisher then it can be a struggle to be discovered. Although digital helps for some, it doesn’t for most which means for new British talent it’s either hoping 2000AD accept you, or but some stroke of talent/luck your comic finds a market because as sure as shit isn’t likely that Diamond will distribute your book or FP will bother to stock it.

It’s impossible to turn back the clock but it is possible for the future to be changed. How that changes depends on what we all do as fans if we’re fed up of a monolithic monopoly controlling distribution. I’m not offering solutions here, but consider this a call for people to consider what’s best for the future as at some point this bubble is going to burst as all bubbles do and for our industry to remain interesting and diverse we need to shake the system up in a way that shifts power from the large corporations to the independent retailers, the creators and the fans or the future is bland, boring and fucked.

Day by Day

Today marks the first time I’ve completed four weeks of continuous work since having my stroke in February 2016. Now, it may depress some that I’m celebrating a month of working (and in a few months I may look back at this blog in abject horror) but considering at one point the idea of working again, let alone even part or full time was so far off that it seemed impossible.

There’s a part of me that wants to race to whatever my end goal is, but it seems for now I’m fairly secure for the rest of 2017 and that is an achievement in itself.

The hell of a daily commute

Since starting back at work I’m getting used to the daily commute, and not just that, getting used to a commute in a city (Glasgow) I’ve not done a commute in simply decades, and for years in both Bristol and Leicester I’ve lived within walking distance of work so things have changed. Not for the best either as negotiating on and off trains at Queen Street station is essentially like this.

Though with less lunatic Glaswegian cannibal punks trying to kill you.

Kill or be killed seems to be the mantra. Having spent so long in the terminally blasé setting of Bristol it will take some time to adjust to Glasgow’s more energised lifestyle as long as the cannibal punks don’t get me first…

My own personal Kobayashi Maru

For those of you not familiar with the world of Star Trek and especially the fine acting career of William Shatner, this is a Kobayashi Maru.

Since having a stroke in February of 2016, life has felt like a ‘no-win’ scenario especially with the cancer, slipped disc and Scotland’s men’s football team proving that no matter how hard you knock one problem down, there’s always another dropping out of warp to fire their photon torpedoes at you.

Yet, like Captain Kirk I don’t especially like to lose, even when everything seems to be folding back against you so with some trepidation it has to be said it does seem like my ‘no-win scenario’ is at least for the rest of my natural lifespan (however long that is now), over and a slow rebuilding of my life continues as carefully as possible. Yes, my empire of comics is on hold (mainly because I’m offline or at Glastonbury when it comes to booking tables at conventions. Bugger) but short steps.

All I need to do now is continue listening to my doctor, don’t do anything stupid and watch out for those pesky Kilingons….

We can get there by bus…

This is a short companion to my story of brutal murder. As I’ve mentioned I’ve started a new job, but because of the stroke recovery my walking pace makes glaciers look like The Flash which can mean walking is painfully boring, or a chance to take in things others rushing to get from A to B quicker than a Donald Trump lie.

One of the nicer things I’ve registered is I’ve walked past Killermont Street every day, which for those of us of a certain age means a certain Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera song going through my head…

There could be far worse things stuck in my head, but because Glasgow has changed so much since I last lived here it didn’t actually dawn on me I was walking through Killermont Street til this morning where this song stuck. I hope I can share this with you and do the same because the song is one of Frame’s lost wee classics…

Today I saw and heard a murder…

I saw a brutal, horrendous and probably uncompromisingly painful murder committed by two people today on the way home, and nobody did anything about it. The victim as still twitching and kicking when I lost earshot, so there may well have been life left in the poor thing, but as I just drifted out of range I heard one last death rattle so the murder was complete.

But before I explain, I should say I’m settling in back into the world of work. Today our wee group started probing each other’s lives and I got told I was aged between ’35 and 45′ so I’ll take this. Also just a wee note that my reviews of comics, etc will be found from now on at That’s Not Current, and this week you can read what I thought about Calexit #1. Anyhow, so far no major issues barring the morning smell of bleach outside the lifts at Queen Street Station, and oh, the brutal murder I witnessed this evening.

It was at Buchanan Street steps, a Glasgow landmark where I saw two men armed only with slightly out of tune electric guitars brutally wield them as they bludgeoned Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb over the head, neck and testicles til it couldn’t take any more pain or agony as it tried to crawl free to mercy, but these two lads were merciless as they garrotted this song (which I may remind you was finely covered by the Scissor Sisters) until it couldn’t breathe.

I’ve seen and heard brutal things in my life but the cold callousness here is something that shall live with me forever, and to make it worse as I drifted out of distance I’m sure I heard them round on Life on Mars.

The murderous bastards!