The ‘Treasury of British Comics’ panel from SDCC 18

I know there’s a few folk who read this blog who are big fans of British comics, so this panel from this year’s San Diego Comic Con which discusses the history of British comics. There is an over-long explanation of the concept of girls and boys comics not to mention other diversions, but for fans and historians it’ll be an interesting 45 minutes of your time.

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The cold economics of running a comic shop

A while back I came across this video YouTube. It’s worth a watch, even if it is a tad annoying.

While watching this it became clear folk don’t understand how to run a business, and although the video is full of Millennial bullshit (”use an app”)there are points to be made, so let’s take a look at the pull list.

The pull list is a staple of the comic shop I’ve worked in three big comics shops in Glasgow, London and Bristol and each one ran a pull list more or less along the same lines. Customer comes in, says ”I don’t want to miss another issue of Reagan’s Raiders, can you keep it aside for me?’

So when the next thrilling issue comes in, you put it aside for your customer and when s/he comes in they’re chuffed because they’ve got their thrilling adventure comic. Sounds great and mutually beneficial? Well no, the problem is you as a shop are providing a free service for your customer which sounds great, but customers will not pick their books up regularly. That’s fine if you’ve been made aware of it at the start; for one example I had a customer in Bristol who said he only comes into Bristol once a month who ordered quite a bit of stuff, mainly Marvel and DC. Fine, you have a good day when they come in but you’ll have people who don’t tell you and their comics mount up.

One week in Bristol I counted near a grand of comics sitting in people’s lists. That went down by the end of the weekend but that’s a grands worth of stock sitting there unable to be sold, or in some cases, gotten rid of because you’ll never sell it and end up carrying it around for decades.

My solution to this is making the pull list a membership scheme. You pay a sum dependent upon how many comics you want to put aside so if you do a runner leaving us with a load of unsold, and unsellable, comics, we’ve at least had something off you.Today I’d go further and set up a direct debit, and if need be, a mail order so we’d not only get the money but ship the comics which means freeing space. If you think that’s harsh then perhaps running a business isn’t for you because the pull list can bring shops down and here’s the thing, most people open up a shop based upon their collection and a hope to make somewhere really fun for your mates and like-minded people to hang out but if nobody is spending money then ultimately all you’re doing is paving your way for bankruptcy.

Everything you’ll do to run your shop is going to involve thinking how it’ll help make you money. Sure you can do all the things you’d like when you’re secure or at least, stable, but I’ve seen shops go bust when they’ve ran out of ideas or when the collection runs out, or they’ve just sat there on their arses sneering at punters rather than working out how to keep in business because running your own business is hard and you don’t want to make it harder, so sometimes you’ll have to do things which make you seem harsh but unless you’ve got loads of capital behind you, you’ll need to think how to utilise things like the pull list or branch into markets new and fresh. And no, I don’t mean wargaming or a wall of Funko Pop figures.

Ask yourself what’s your unique selling point; what is it you do that no other shop of your kind in the area does and how can you draw and keep customers. Also customers have to have realistic expectations of what your shop can do. Explain to them that ordering comics is often a guessing game.

Take for example the variant cover. It is a plague. DC, to be fair, are actually good with their variants but everyone else is a shitshow where ordering 10 extra copies of Title Z, means you might get a comic that sells for loads on Ebay but you’ve taken a hit in order to get it. So consult with your customers but show them how complex it can be but just getting them to look at Diamond’s order form but sometimes everyone (bar a few) are going to miss out on things like the variant of Batgirl #23.

Which brings us back to the pull list. It can be the spine that holds your shop together only if you’ve got it turning over regularly, but you have to at some point deal with the cold realities and economics of running an independent comic shop or you’ll go the way of far too many shops.

Who writes the narrative of the history of comics?

From the very start of comics as we’ve known the medium for the last century or so, people, and companies, have claim credit for creating characters which they didn’t. The main reason this has happened is money, then ego in order to propel their own career and in the process create a narrative that’s often adopted to become the mainstream view. The best known cases of this are Bob Kane claiming he created everything about Batman, and the likes of Jerry Robinson or Bill Finger (who actually came up with most of what we know as Batman today)  were just hired hands helping Kane out. Complete bollocks of course.

Then there’s Stan Lee who has seemingly been claiming creative ownership since his first pubic hair grew, though this is something he inherited from his uncle Martin Goodman. So over the decades people have been fighting to get the credit they’re due but the narrative is something they often have to fight against.

The video below is from San Diego Comic Con this year and it features a discussion which may well only be of interest to the hardcore comics freak like myself, but it’s a fantastic discussion of history that really does make you question the narrative of history.

San Diego Comic Con Cosplay

Back in the old days of comic conventions we used to have a fancy dress competition which would normally be won by one of the few women entering, or by some bloke wearing the inside of toilet rolls on his arms to pretend to be Mr. Fantastic. Invariably it’ll all be a bit naff and fun with the occasional time of it being something very good indeed.

Then in the 21st century fancy dress vanished to be replaced by the juggernaut of cosplay as fancy dress and play-acting was consumed by capitalism, but it’s hard to be too cynical as after all, this is (done right) essentially just another form of theatre which brings me to the Masquerade Ball at San Diego Comic Con. The ball is the Oscars of cosplay with a touch of Glastonbury Festival, so seeing as things are a bit shite in the world have a shufty of these videos to cheer yourself up a bit.

The comics of San DIego Comic Con

Every year at San Diego Comic Con there’s endless trailers for films and TV programmes not to mention some often awful tours of the convention or some good ones like this.

But for me if I got myself there I’d go round the dealers selling comics and quite literally I would expel every bodily fluid I coujld at some of these tables looking at some of the books on display. So this video is basically hardcore porn to me.

Sure there’s a lot of slabbed books there but bloody hell, if I were to win the lottery I’d be bankrupt if I was unleashed in there.I’ve seen, held and even sold some of the key books on display in the video but never in the condition of some on display here.

So enjoy and remember, if you want to get me a Christmas present I’ll accept the original Jack Kirby pages…

Losing Steve Ditko

In one week we’ve lost Harlan Ellison and now, Steve Ditko. Both were uncompromising but whereas Ellison was vocal in defending his actions and work, Ditko was the exact opposite often to the detriment of his career.Ditko’s death hurts and I think the tributes pouring out for him are all so touching because although Jack Kirby was a genius who created a large part of the Marvel Universe, it was Ditko who created much of what Kirby didn’t.

Ditko was a reclusive to the point where the only pictures we have on him come mainly from one photo session in the early 1960’s. He spoke through his work and he did so in a way no creator working for Marvel or DC could today.

I wasn’t aware of Ditko as a kid. I was reading American imports of Spider-Man but this was the late John Romita, early Gil Kane run so it was through his DC work I was most familiar with him. Especially his creation, The Creeper who to this day I adore still.

It was though Marvel UK’s reprints I got to lap up Ditko’s Spider-Man and then his Hulk and Doctor Strange which blew my tiny little mind.

But it’ll be Spider-Man he’ll be remembered for and I’ll always remember his splash pages from Amazing Spider-Man annual #1.

It wasn’t til the 80’s that I became aware of how some fans as well as large chunks of the media were pushing the line that Stan Lee had created Spider-Man by himself, something Ditko addressed in his self-published comics.

Ditko never compromised. He could have but if you’ve read any of Ditko’s work you’d realise Ditko wasn’t about compromise. A is A. Ditko’s political beliefs would never let him sell out and it’s Ditko’s politics married with his visuals that made him unique. As a Guardian reading lefty, I should be repulsed by Ditko’s often hard right Ayn Randian philosophies but I’m fascinated by them, and in what it inspired Ditko to create.

Indeed, his politics was essential in creating the idea of his Peter Parker as an outsider, which set him aside from others in the era of Vietnam War protests.

When Ditko left Marvel it was here that things get interesting. His work for me at DC and Charlton is incredible with the aforementioned Creeper, plus the Blue Beetle and The Question standing out.

I’d come across Ditko’s work in the 70’s and loved the weird oddness of it all. I especially loved Killjoy which ran as a back-up in Charlton’s E-Man.

Although Ditko returned to Marvel in the 1980’s he left to work alone on his own comics published by Robin Snyder, and again, he’s still not compromising.

Ditko has been with us drawing comics for over 60 years and he never stopped creating, or doing what he wanted to do. Now he’s gone and we’ll never get Ditko’s worldview of right and wrong, good and evil or just what he thinks will thrill or astound us anymore.

He’ll be missed. The unique always should be.

What I thought of Glasgow Comic Con 2018

Yesterday I attended the eighth Glasgow Comic Con (GCC) as a punter, not a dealer so I was able to soak up the atmosphere more than usual, and the atmosphere this year was 30c heat which for Glasgow is unusual to say the least. I primarily went to catch up with friends but I also wanted to see if there was any Kirby, Wally Wood or EC stuff I could pick up for reasonable prices and amazingly, I managed to pick up a few bits of Kirby cheapish.

As for the con, GCC is based upon the old school style of comics con where comics are at the fore, with a dash of cosplay. It also managed to bring in young kids, as well as the Millennial audience, though I will say it was somewhat lacking on the programme for us older folk. I have to say though the heat was sometimes too much, and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow isn’t a good venue for this sort of event, especially if you’re disabled and have to spend time waiting for lifts so you could meet friends in the cafe or the main convention floor. The organisers did stick up signs saying that could people respect the lift is there for folk who can’t climb the large amount of stairs but too often was the lift held up with people who just couldn’t be arsed walking down stairs.

This brings me to the biggest problem with the GCC. It’s clear too big for a venue which isn’t fit for purpose for an event like this and I’ve been in worse venues over the thousands of cons I’ve been to, but this wasn’t fully fit for purpose. Rooms were often too crowded and corridors crammed with people which meant cosplayers standing there being photographed caused bottlenecks. The Royal Concert Hall is a fantastic venue and the GCC is a good event, but they don’t fit each other though the panel room was lovely and cool.

This is during the panel where The Punisher gets a Queer Eye makeover, and indeed throughout the day this corner provided an oasis of cool and calm to watch the days panels.

I had a few wanders round the self-published/small press tables and there was some splendid stuff there, with the comic Escape From Coatbridge raising a few laughs for the title alone, but nothing really stood out spectacularly I am glad to see the small press scene in Glasgow to be as large as it is.

If I’d not forgotten my drugs (suffering from chronic pain isn’t fun in this weather) I’d have probably stayed on but as the day wore on all the people left were the cosplayers, and some of the guests tables were looking barren of visitors which considering there were people of the calibre of Ian Kennedy and Leila Abdelazaq was a pity.

Glasgow can accommodate a proper comics convention of the type we used to organize back in the day,  however GCC needs to work out whether to stay a one-day event crammed into a venue that doesn’t work for it or see if there’s somewhere in Glasgow it can fit into, and even whether it expands into a second day but it does need to grow, develop itself so it can set itself aside easily from the MCM con or the one-day events held across the West of Scotland. I’d like to see it develop.

On my way home the con did throw up one more treat.

That’ll be Pikachu getting the bus home to Coatbridge I assume.