100 Years of Jack Kirby

It’s the San Diego Comic Con (well, it’s barely a comic convention than a media whorefest) this weekend, and the convention is celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday with a fantastic programme cover recreating one of his Jimmy Olsen covers from back in the 1970’s.

I’m glad they’re doing this as quite simply had there not been a Kirby all those people drawn to ”geek” culture would have drifted elsewhere. No Kirby, no Captain America, no Fantastic Four, no X-Men, no Iron Man, no Avengers, no Thor, no Mister Miracle, no Groot, no Nick Fury, no SHIELD, no Darkseid, no Black Panther, no romance comics, and in fact, the entire American comic book industry not to mention modern culture would look entirely different.

So well done to San Diego for driving the point home. No Kirby, and comic conventions would probably just be full of middle aged men buying back comics they sold when they were in their 20’s, and verbally wanking over Barry Smith’s Conan. Actually…

Anyhow, we should celebrate Jack Kirby and I hope the attendees this weekend make Jack proud.

The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part one: It all comes from Birmingham

The British comic convention today is a myriad of cosplayers of all ages and you can travel the UK attending a large convention in cities from Aberdeen to Exeter as the comic medium enjoys the coverage and exposure that many of us over the age of 30 could only have dreamed about in the past. Yet it wasn’t always like this. Everything starts somewhere and the British comic convention starts back in 1968 where the first British comic convention took place from the 30 August to the 2nd September in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham.

More information on the con can be found here, but needless to say that if you want a zero point for what becomes the British comics industry and scene today then late summer 1968 in a hotel in Birmingham. Attendees included Mike Lake, Nick Landau, Jim Baikie, Steve Moore, with a stupidly young Alan Moore listed as a supporting member (early comic conventions ran with the SF convention model before diverging later on) who all changed comics in the UK in a number of different ways.

Dez Skinn goes into fantastic detail of the con on his site, with fascinating snippets like DC Comics giving pages of Neal Adams and Steve Ditko art to be given away as prizes in the fancy dress competition, which I strongly doubt neither Adams or Ditko knew anything about. Skinn’s site is also a fantastic resource on subsequent conventions throughout the 70’s as the 70’s Comicon moved from Sheffield, to London and around. It’s also worth noting that we’re not talking of a mass audience here. We’re talking of a few hundred attendees with maybe at most, a few thousand active fans outwith of people casually buying comics and leaving at that rather than take it that extra yard by searching out other fans. At a time when comics in the UK were seen as a childish, laughable pastime it isn’t hard to see why it actually took a bit of guts to stick your head up over the trenches and admit you loved comics.

At this time as well the comics scene we know today was being formed out of the primordial goo. Many of the names mentioned in Skinn’s excellent history went on to become either established creators, or in the case of Nick Landau, an essential cog in the industry.Magazine like Comic Media News were the internet of their day as they played a part in helping build the industry in the UK.

Sadly Dez Skinn’s history ends in the late 70’s and the promised continuation has so far, not appeared but by the late 70’s the scene was firmly established and ready to move into the 1980’s where the UK comic convention arguably enjoyed a Golden Age. If you’d like to add to this blog to expand it then please feel free to do just that in the comments below.

Next up, the 1980’s and UKCAC…

What I thought of Glasgow Comic Con 2017

I’ve attended more comic conventions and marts as an ordinary punter rather than a dealer or publisher in the last three months than I have for the last 35 years.The latest is the Glasgow Comic Con (GCC) which is a well established con having started in 2011 and seemingly growing every year.

I’ve discussed often on this blog the state of British conventions and how they split into two; the San Diego multimedia type and the one where comics are still the primary focus. GCC falls firmly in the latter type which is good as the former comes with issues which I’m not going to spend too much time on but the main one is that there doesn’t seem to be much love for the comics medium itself at these shows. This cannot be said of GCC where creators ranging from small press to established creators rub shoulders, and they do rub shoulders as the venue (Royal Concert Hall) is simply impractical as the convention has simply outgrown it.

Take the dealers room. Not a huge selection of dealers but getting through the aisles was a chore, especially if you’re disabled as I am or if you’re in a wheelchair. Now this wasn’t anything as bad as the Bristol Comics Expo in 2014 which was frankly, fucking recklessly planned on part of the organisers but put it like this; I had more people bump into me nearly knocking me over in a day than I did during the week I was at Glastonbury. Now I don’t know if they can find a hotel, and I don’t know what the place is like since the refurbishment, but the Central Hotel did us right when we organised Glasgow’s first comic convention 32 years ago. Whether it can be got for the right price is another matter but I can’t see the current venue being practical in the long term.

This aside, the convention is astonishingly professionally run. Far too many cons have staff who seem to have no skills in actually dealing with people, but this wasn’t the case here as a one-day con fairly rattled through a programme of talks featuring 2000AD creators such as Pat Mills and Fraser Irving, not to mention signings from John Wagner, Jamie McKelvie and Keiron Gillen.

The small press row/room endured the usual sub-superhero nonsense or elves (bloody elves!) I’ve been seeing in small press rooms going back decades but there was enough originality not to mention talent on display to suggest some of the folk there have a career in an industry which is utterly unforgiving and brutal. Look though to Gillen and McKelvie. I remember the Bristol con in the early 2000’s where they launched Phonogram as a sharp injection of thrilling originality from two talents who were ahead of the game. it was a breath of fresh air to see creators try hard to make something new and that for me is your gold standard if you’re an aspiring creator in the 21st century. Superheroes and fantasy are genres where you wade through them but if you do use those genres make it personal and most of all, good!

Highlight of the day was former UKCAC organiser Frank Plowright interviewing Pat Mills about all the things Pat likes talking about, though I must say Pat was very chilled when mid-90’s 2000AD was brought up.

Overall this is a nice medium sized one-day event that’s grown out of the venue and the one day and we need comics conventions that are still about comics, rather than media or cosplay. Let the megacons soak up that market and it’s nice to know all these years after a load of us kicked off Glasgow’s comic marts/cons in the 80’s that they’re still going strong today.

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…