Superman died 25 years ago

1992 was actually a bloody good year. Things were nowhere near as depressing as 2017 but as the Justice League film vaguely entertains people and DC’s piece of Watchmen necrophilia, Doomsday Clock, is due to be released it’s worth looking back at those days 25 years when DC Comics killed off Superman in an event which summed up those times in comics.

Some context; 1992 was a year when comics were still caught up in a massive wave of popularity, and the speculator bubble hadn’t yet spectacularly burst so things that had been building up since comics became noticed by the mainstream in the mid to late 1980’s were now in it’s late capitalism phase. By 1992 Image Comics were a very, very, very large thing with Todd McFarlane’s Spawn proving itself to be simply gigantic in terms of sales which left Marvel and DC trailing in their wake. Marvel decided to pump out mountains of new titles each with variant/gimmick covers (sound familiar?) while DC also did variants, their main tactic was the Big Event and the biggest of the Big Event was the death of Superman. To say DC milked this is an understatement. When Superman #75 was released it came in the standard cover not to mention the bagged edition which came with a Superman black armband.

There was also the scare platinum edition which was exactly the same as the bagged edition but a different colour…

Comic shops were rammed full of people buying the issue just because they thought this was a special issue, but of course us fans knew that it was a gimmick and that Superman would be back. He was back within the year.

The news reports at the time tell the story of a massive possibly profitable comic for collectors and this piece is all about the cash.

And this piece featuring former Marvel editor Jim Shooter and John Byrne hits the nail on the head.

The death of Superman was always a cheap gimmick; probably the cheapest and biggest in an era of cheap gimmicks, but it gave DC enormous publicity, not to mention when the speculator bubble burst, it’d picked up enough readers for it to sail through the worst days of the 90’s in better shape than Marvel who came close to going out of business.

At the time I was working in the industry in Bristol in the vaguely legendary Comics and CD’s on the Gloucester Road, and we had so many copies of this we thought we’d have to eat them. We had boxes upon boxes of them. Some we even had shipped sea-freight (I need to do a blog about how comics were shipped to the UK in detail soon) to us, and we shipped them back to the US where dealers had run out. It was lunacy. In 1993, DC Comics broke Bruce Wayne’s back and gave us a new Batman and the lunacy carried on.

In 1994 the comics bubble finally burst. The speculator boom imploded, comic companies died, shops went bust, and as said even Marvel teetered on the brink yet here we are 25 years on still talking about a cheap gimmick and how the ripples from that event can be seen today.  Last weekend in Kilmarnock I sold a set of the death of Superman that had been lurking for 25 years in a box somewhere because for all the horrible blandness of the comics, they’re still a part of history that’s still ongoing and we have no idea how it’ll end.

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Come to the Kilmarnock Comic Con and give me your money

Having dipped my toes into the water with the abortive Barrowlands comic con back in April I now roll my trouser legs up and go in deeper with the Kilmarnock Comic Con this weekend.

There you’ll be able to buy from me such wonder such as this…

To this if you want a key Silver Age issue featuring Marvel’s pisstake of the Justice League..

Or all the real Justice League comics you can eat…

And lots of quality Silver Age like this wee beauty drawn by Wally Wood…

So come along. Tickets are only a quid for entry which is so cheap that means you’ll have lots of money to spare to spend on my wonderful, and reasonably priced stock of comics. You never know, I may have even settled on a name for my wee operation by then…

 

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…