A look at the Marvel Bullpen in the 1970’s

The 1970’s was a great time for comics when arguably Marvel Comics were still in their pomp, and it really isn’t a point of discussion that DC Comics were in a terrible state with sales down thanks to a slump which was to last til the early 80’s. It was that Jurassic period of comics fandom and creativity.

Thanks to YouTube a wonderful bit of archive popped up showing not just how much some prime Golden Age comics sold for in the late 70’s (hint, much less than now) but what members of the Marvel Bullpen looked like around this time. It’s a wonderful bit of archive so enjoy…

A word about the Edinburgh Comic Con 2017

Last weekend I did my first comic con/mart in Scotland since 1994 at the Barrowlands in Glasgow, and even though I broke even, not to mention even made a bit of cash, my opinion of the Scottish comic convention scene was a tad tainted after the clownshow of the Barrowlands event.

This weekend is the 2017 Edinburgh Comic Con. Friends told me that last year the event had several thousand people and that as a show, it was actually fun, something most conventions/marts aren’t these days.Now my impression of the Edinburgh comics scene is somewhat tainted by the memory of several attempts in the 80’s and early 90’s to get events going there which ranged from stillborn to disaster.

So myself and a couple of friends left Glasgow Queen Street station (another first, as the last time I travelled from Queen Street was 20 years ago, and it’s also the last place in Scotland I threw up in a public place) at around 8.30am on a Saturday morning which is a time where Queen Street is one of the few places in Glasgow showing any signs of life. After a short, painless trip (last time I went on the train around three months ago I was in agony as my stroke recovery/slipped disc meant I was in agony) to Edinburgh Haymarket we disembarked, and headed towards the Edinburgh International Conference Centre; one of the better conference centres I’ve been in over the years. Remembering the last time I was in this part of Edinburgh it was 1987 and it was quite literally something from an Irvine Welsh book, I was a tad shocked by how obviously affluent this part of Edinburgh now is. Maybe it’s because I’ve become accustomed to the relative poverty of Dennistoun, but this was like stepping into a much, much colder and windier Bristol.

Anyhow after a wee walk up the hill seeing cosplayers walk past us dressed as Spider-Men, stormtroopers and countless Harley Quinn’s, we joined a smallish queue around 9.30ism. We then realised there was another queue for early entry advance sales and that the ‘small queue’ we joined was now a long queue snaking round the corner of building and way, way back. Upon entering it was clear the venue was rammed, and we quickly entered into a very large hall full of stuff.

This was one of the more recent type of show based upon the San Diego/American comic con concept as opposed to the old school type of con where everything would be split up, or in the UK, would circle round the bar. As bottle of beer were a fiver here the bar was less than a focus, plus the fact there were so many kids with their families meant there weren’t many drunk creators/fans walking around.There was however thousands of people. So much so that my attempts to scout comics dealers, as well as buy cheap stock for my own business, meant it took me nearly three hours to see everything I wanted to.

In fact here’s a picture of the show at around 2pm, four hours after opening.

That’s from the ‘artists alley” entrance and as you can see there’s still a healthy number of people circulating in a hall that’s pretty huge. I couldn’t get the space to stand where I took this picture until around 2pm because it was constantly rammed.

I hooked up with John McShane and Steve Montgomery for a mini AKA Books and Comics reunion cup of tea (we are getting old) and a wee chat about the various comics we all bought (a nice old Charlton E-Man and some Adrian Tomine books in my case) before eventually I headed off back to Glasgow having had a perfectly cracking day out at a show I had low expectations for but left knowing that I have to get myself in there in the dealers room next year as all the comics dealers (bar one, but they’d priced comics on the back and were overpriced)  ranged from a few punters to being so busy it took me hours to get near enough to get a good shufty at their stuff. Some of the other stalls featured some good stuff as I picked up a few mini-comics from Neil Slorrance’s stall, and among the toys and merchandise there were a few people selling art. This ranged from being alright, to simply appalling and I wondered how on earth some people had the gall to sell what was piss-poor work.This is something that niggles me but right now there’s nothing I can offer as an alternative quite just yet…

All in all the show was well run, friendly, well-lit, clean and had a good cross-section of the ‘Geek Scene’ (I despise that expression and use it only under duress) of today though it had a clear and straight focus on comics which from my point of view was perfect. I could only manage the one day but as a two-day event this seems to be a case where good advertising, a decent guest line-up, and just making an effort paid off as I’m hearing today is nearly as busy as yesterday. This is what a modern comic convention should look like. Yes, I do long for the days where British cons were all about the bar, getting drunk, buying some great comics and meeting mates. With the cosplay element, as well as the increase of families some of the old drunken fun is gone but a new audience is coming through with an enthusiasm for comics that I knew was there. With Scotland also being a tad isolated due to geography it means these events will bring the crowds, if done right.

Next year I’ll be back and I hope to be selling this bright, young crowd all the comics (and other stuff) they didn’t even know they needed…

So I take my good fortune…

The weekend just gone I had a table at the Glasgow Sci Fi, Cosplay and Comics con at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. I worked out this was the first comics related show I’ve done in Glasgow since the 1994 GLASCAC and the first one I’ve done since 2015, the first one on my own since 1991 and the first one since my stroke and cancer diagnosis. It was also the first time I’ve been in the Barrowlands since seeing The Pogues in December 1987. That’s a lot of firsts for an event which frankly, was shite but provided me with as many positives as negatives.

Firstly this was a last minute decision just over a fortnight ago so it took me two weeks to get my stock together instead of spending a few months doing it so I start in the summer/autumn proper I’ve done the hard work now and thanks to the weekend I’ve learned about the differences in the Glasgow market as opposed to the Bristol/London market. I now know what I need to do, what I need to buy to have stock which nobody else here in Scotland has (at the right price) and what I need to do to diversify so I don’t just grab comics fans.I haven’t found out everything yet but I will sooner than later hopefully.

As for the Barrowlands show it was a poorly advertised event which rather than bringing in the projected thousands, brought in (and I’ll be nice here) around 500 tops. Most of them were cosplayers who on the whole, don’t spend money on comics, and indeed, from the complaints of fellow stall holders, don’t spend money on anything. Still, come Saturday morning I was set up in the iconic Barrowlands (which looks more or less as it did when I was last in it in 1987) ready for the hordes to flow in!

Here’s the version with added roll and square sausage being digested.

So, the doors opened and trickle of punters came in. Now I’d brought a load of recent stuff, DC Rebirth, Marvel, variants, Walking Dead and any Harley Quinn I could get my hands on. On top of that I’d brought a load of cheapish Silver and Bronze Age which I thought would barely shift. Oh how wrong I was as the first customer bought so much Silver Age that he nearly paid for the table costs. ”Happy days’ I thought as if this was the start then this would be a cracker. Sadly it was a blip. Yeah, a few decent deals happened but the Barrowlands is a club/venue. It is dark. We were in a dark corner and the organisers had failed to lay on additional lighting.Effectively customers were reduced to blind men trying to find a snowball in a snowstorm.

Sunday saw the same problem even though many traders had pointed it out so some harsh words by myself finally saw some light on the Sunday which helped.but when there were so few customers there it was essentially a tactic of Corbyn-like proportions.

Around 25 years ago while I was working at the not-even-remotely iconic Comics and C.D’s in Bristol we did a show on a bank holiday Monday in Milton Keynes. It is by far the benchmark of ‘worst events ever’. We still managed to walk out of that in profit because all the traders walked rather than pay for their tables. This wasn’t that bad but the thought of demanding table money back crossed the minds of several traders this weekend judging by the looks of some very ashen-faced folk on Sunday afternoon.

Still, it was fun. This time last year I was wondering if I’d still be alive in a month’s time. Now I’m looking at display units, premises and taking someone on as a permanent helper/driver. I’ve done some networking, refined some ideas and hell, I’m even venturing to Edinburgh at the weekend to do some investigating. From thinking of what coffins I’d look good in to whether I’ve got enough Harley Quinn comics in less than a year…

Would I do another show by the same organisers in the Barrowlands? No chance. I now need to sit down with a list of shows in Central Scotland, work out what I would like to (and can) do, then take it from there. It was a dip in the water. Next time I’ll go up to the knees and see if I can rely on more than good fortune to hake it all worthwhile…

Comics fans in Glasgow; come and give me all your money this weekend!

A few weeks ago I mentioned that after a long, long time I was heading back into the world of comics? Well, this weekend I’ll be trading at the Glasgow Sci Fi, Cosplay and Comic Con http://www.glasgowscc.co.uk/at the iconic Barrowlands in Glasgow.

I’ll be having a selection of lovely comics from the 1950’s to today, including variant covers. Lots of pointless variant covers but hey, the kids love them!

So what am I calling myself? Well, Companies House has issues with me digging up the AKA Books and Comics name and I don’t really want to spend more than the £12 it’s cost me to make a limited company to untangle that mess. Then I had a brainwave, realised that hurt too much and remembered another bit of my past which (cutting a long story short) leads to the answer.

Welcome to Neptune Comics and Books.

Yeah, I got me a logo and everything!

So, this weekend Glasgow folk, even from outwith of Glasgow, come to the Barrowlands, see some cosplay, see some guests and mainly, spend some money with me and get yourself some rather splendid comics…

What I thought of Monsters Unleashed #1

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I love big monsters. They’re wonderful. I love the old Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko monster comics of the pre-Marvel era of the early 60’s and 1950’s.This latest mini-series pits Marvel’s superheroes against the various big monsters in their universe which means big battle scenes.

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And big monsters.

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There’s nothing especially subtle going on here. Writer Cullen Bunn doesn’t force the reader to strain the grey matter, and frankly this isn’t the point as we only want to see big monsters twatting the hell out of each other or Marvel’s various superheroes.

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This is fairly standard superhero stuff, and while Steve McNiven’s art is nice, it isn’t anything but functional in places which is a pity as some of these monster designs are quite nice but this aside there’s some fun superheroics here which makes this a nice read, but utterly unsubstantial.

Weapons of Mass Consumption: The economics of comic fandom

Just after the recent San Diego Comic Con, the comic site Bleeding Cool published this article about exclusives and freebies only available at the con being sold for large sums of money on Ebay. There’s a tone of amazement there which coming from a site that regularly promotes ”hot comics’ rising in value is somewhat amusing but there is an issue on how the economics of comics or ‘geek culture’ is being turned into a fandom of itself, rather than being an offshoot of the love of comics as a medium or an artform.

A lot of fans will solely be picking up items to sell on which isn’t  anew thing, speculators have been around for decades and personally I’ve been there, done that myself. What seems to be an issue is not just the aforementioned problem with the medium coming second to the consumerism of the age, it’s an old sales manager of mine used to say, its companies selling shite to wankers.

Part of the issue is quality control, or the lack of it that people have so they can’t control themselves from buying something because it’s unique (limited to only 20k) or that its something ‘cool’ that someday will be worth more. The issue is that being swallowed up by consumerism means you’re not enjoying a medium as you probably could so you end up accepting less as passable. In effect the economics of fandom has reduced your critical facilities. In effect it’s become not only speculative to buy ”geek” related stuff, it’s become fashionable but we all know what happens when the mainstream absorbs the alternative..

Yup, you end up with dickheads clinging onto something because it’s ‘cool’ at that moment of time and the reason why everyone’s excited about a character like say, The Joker, or a film like Suicide Squad, is lost. It becomes more about cheering on the brand of your choice and consuming the merchandise to go with it. It changes people from fans to primarily consumers which is a quite terrifying thought for the development of comics as a medium in the future.

Comic Relief-The ongoing story of my stroke/cancer

Yesterday was the return of the Bristol Comics Expo. Last time it was held in 2014, it wasn’t something I spoke highly of, but this was a better run, smaller event albeit it was probably so small that if you blinked you’d miss it if you were there. Fortunately I attended with a couple of friends which meant we spent around six hours in the bar (strictly orange juice for me) talking about the grammar of comics, creators influences, the history of British comic conventions, Dez Skinn, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, the Suicide Squad, and lots and lots of stories which if I were to repeat them here would get me possibly sued. Some of these topics will turn up in blogs here or over at That’s Not Current. Stay tuned!

I also picked up some old Spirit magazines from when Kitchen Sink published Will Eisner’s creation. For only £1.50 each, so a bargain in a con where bargains were at a premium.

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A Joe Simon interview and a classic bit of Eisner on the cover!

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Just a brilliant, brilliant cover!

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Not only a gloriously evocative cover, but Eisner interviewing Harvey Kurtzman!

Of course what all this did was to make me feel normal after months of recovering and being treated for my stroke and my cancer. Yes, I was in bed by 9.30pm after a bit on an Olympics binge, but it was a good day which points to hopefully a slow return to life as normal once all of this cancer business is (hopefully) out the way and I’ve recovered more from the stroke.

I forget that all of what’s happened to me with the stroke, the cancer, the waiting to find out what type of cancer it is, the HUGE operation, the radiotherapy, everything, has happened in less than six months. It’s astonishing how one adjusts so readily to a new reality, mainly because if you don’t, you go mad and get crushed by the weight of it all so yesterday was a productive day. Today though is about slobbing out on the couch reading those old Spirit magazines, hoping Leicester beat Manchester United and slipping back into normality..