What I thought of Hook Jaw #4

As of last issue the body count for this series has been not just low, but relatively bloodless. Not so here as Hook Jaw is turning into a very different sort of comic. It could have taken the blood and guts approach (and when there is gore and violence it is pretty extreme) but choose instead to take a more political, even measured (as much as is possible in a comic mainly about a giant man-eating Great White shark) approach. This issue sees the focus switch to the Somali pirates who have captured our group of protagonists which for at least one of them means a very messy end at the teeth of Hook Jaw herself.

There’s also a clunking great MacGuffin that everyone is looking for which if found can either save the world or destroy it, in the wrong hands of course. It is a tad clunky but it is purely there to drive the plot ahead. The real meat here is in the twisting turns of a plot that’s ramping up the stakes so that the world itself is at risk. Not bad for a series about a shark.

As always Si Spurrier turns in a good script that’s smarter on a second read, and Connor Boyle’s restrained style means it isn’t just a gorefest or tedious talking heads. As a series this is one of the best things Titan have published though the cruel amongst us say that isn’t a high benchmark which would be unfair as Hook Jaw is a fine comic.

Back to the future

Over the last month I’ve been doing physio to make myself stronger to help with the cancer recuperation and stroke recovery and it’s working a treat. I am however, bored shitless having been signed off from doing work which means days of unrelenting boredom and ennui. To pass the time I’ve been building up stock to start selling comics at conventions and marts starting from the summer so July would have been my first solo outing as a deal in oh, around 20 years. Well, bollocks to waiting. I’m back next month.

I’ve played with comics retailing for a few decades, but there’s a hole in Glasgow’s market and I intend to slip in and fill it. And yes, there is a bigger goal behind this, but considering a year ago I was wondering whether I’d be around in a year’s time I can’t really be arsed wasting yet more time.

So if you want stuff like this…

Stay tuned for further details once everything is 100% confirmed…

What I thought of Captain America Annual #8

Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty, this was the one-off annual of a title which then sold poorly at the time hence why this annual guest starred Wolverine who was then as massive as he is now.The fact the comics opens with Wolverine gives away the sales tactic here.

Wolverine in the 80’s was still a man of mystery. Everything that made the character so fresh and interesting hadn’t yet been flushed down the bog and a guest appearance would add serious numbers to sales.

In fact any casual reader at the time would have picked this up wondering where the hell Captain America is in his own comic but after half a dozen or so pages we finally get the titular hero turning up.

There’s a giant robot and dodgy dealings going on but really this is about when Cap will actually fight Wolverine, something Gruenwald teases out for as long as possible but thanks to CB radio Cap gets informed of events.

Eventually Cap and Wolverine meet, have a misunderstanding and a fight because this is superhero comics.

We also get a tease of the sound effect that launched 1000 memes however the fight carries on before the pair eventually realise they’ve got a common foe to fight.

After a while the robot escapes, Cap and Wolvie find out what’s going on and the robot comes back tougher than ever for the pair to fight.

Of course the goodies win after a touch of moral greyness. In fact this is a rollicking good bit of fun and an example of great 1980’s superhero comics so you’ve got some good fights, a good guest hero, Captain America being Cap, and a big robot that gets smashed up. Gruenwald does this well and as for Zeck and Beatty their art is fantastic stuff. Overall this is a wonderful snippet of a time when Marvel managed to make their comics fun, accessible and also good!

What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

The long story of a death of a comic shop in Glasgow

Back in the mid to late 1990’s I was all over the place not because I was drunk and on drugs (most of the time) but because I’d more or less pulled out of the comics industry and was now working in the licensed trade in Leicester. I was also having a great time going to festivals and gigs in the Midlands, the South West and London so if anything, my time in the story of Glasgow’s comics scene was reduced to at best, fleeting cameo roles.

I’m now back living in Glasgow after 28 years partly to recuperate from a stroke and recover from cancer treatment, which has seen me get better however as I’m now signed off work I have a lot of free time which means sitting around drinking tea with some old friends and talking about comics not to mention all the gossip I’ve missed in the last decades when I was sunning myself in Bristol.In the course of all this I’ve unpicked some scabby wounds which may well be new to me, but to the people concerned are old scars they thought healed. I’m not going to go into those because frankly, it isn’t my business to repeat what I’ve been told as this blog is about trying to put up my own recollections and tell a history (where I can) of things which haven’t been told.

However a friend on Facebook pointed out this blog titled ”Death throes of a comic shop‘. It makes interesting reading to say the least and as someone who was a bit-part player in the Glasgow comics scene at the time some of it seemed, well, wrong, even libellous in places. I didn’t have any first hand accounts of the time, and I’d only recently found out the exact reasons why legendary Glasgow comic shop AKA Books and Comics went out of business in the 90’s. So I thought I’d ask people who were there at the time and got their version of the story spun in the blog and their replies were all universal in that the aforementioned blog is indeed spinning a very skewed historical record of events, and indeed, some of the people named in the blog have some good reason to ask for a right to reply at least. One or two may well find themselves reaching for a solicitors number.

If you haven’t read the blog by this point I suggest you do.There’s some parts worth highlighting though.

 This small fact brings up the thorny notion of wether or not I name people here.  Having given it a long though I have decided not to.  All the names have been changed to protect the innocent as they say.  Not sure many come out of this looking like they were ever innocent but that is for others to decide based on my description of the story above!

The UK’s libel laws are a complex mess depending where in the UK you actually are, but as Katie Hopkins will tell you, you have to be very clear in not naming people or essentially slurring their name without some good reason or proof backing you up. I know this as in one of my blogs I did just that (don’t bother looking for it, it no longer is online) but like the person I was smearing, I was a victim (of a bastard called Joshua Bonehill) so once I found out the truth I deleted the blog and apologised to the person affected. I learned a lot about libel there. The fact is you can’t just remove a letter (in this case ”John” becomes ”Jon”) while making the person clearly identifiable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the time and people being discussed. That’s libellous potentially and in the next paragraph he makes it quite clear who he is.

It is worth saying that only really three people who were involved day to day in the running of the shop have ever known the whole truth, and each of them only knows aspects of that truth. Each of us has will obviously have a coloured memory of the events I will outline. However conversations in depth with one of the others confirms pretty much everything I am going to say here. Nothing would come as a shock to him as he knows it all. The other guy, well a lot of what I am going to say will come as a shock not so much as he will find it new information but that it is information he would rather stayed hidden away. See he is a “figure” in the comic book scene. As my American friends might say he has more front than Macy’s and this might give a few people a peek behind the facade!  My business partner had been with the shop since it opened.  Fair to say he was a founding member of the Glasgow comic book scene really.

So we’ve got a story of the last days of AKA, the subsequent shop that followed it, and the collapse of that shop which lead to what is now A1 Toys in Parnie Street in Glasgow.

That story is at best a skewed version of events. At worst it’s a mix of half thruths and bullshit interjected with ego-boosting self-aggrandizement with the odd snippet of full-on truth thrown in. I think the worst of it is the way the author makes it clear exactly who it is he’s talking about by throwing in facts which will clearly identify them. This is shaky ground to say the least.

One of the local comic book artists who I had become quite good friends with was negotiating a business deal with Jon about coming on as a silent partner.  Jon was keen on this, Kolin McFeel (yeah, not real name!) was a big name in the UK comic scene, having recently completed a seminal Judge Dredd and then a Chopper story for 2000AD that had set a very high bar for others to hit.

I mean, really, really??

That said, there are fair points made. For example:

I can’t remember when it was that things got a little sour but I know that it was caused when David called our hotel from the shop.  Turns out we were in San Diego when Batman 500 had been released and our order from Titan Distributors was missing the entire order, some 200 copies of it.  Jon and I managed to find the head of Titan in the convention hall and decided to ask what the hell was going on.  At that time comics were so time sensitive we knew that unless we could get the right book at the right time at least 50% of our non-ordered sales would go, and a good few orders would be knocked back.  The idea of customer loyalty to a comic shop was a myth in those days.  Get the books on the day of release or eat the loss of sales.

This is mostly true of the time. The release of Batman #500 dates this to late summer 1993 as at this point I was working in the nearly legendary Comics and CD’s on the Gloucester Road in Bristol and I can testify to just a huge book it was. I even ended up being interviewed on local radio about it so huge was it that the real world outwith of the comics bubble was interested.

For a shop to lose that was a disaster, and with Neptune Distribution having died a horrible death the year previously, a shop then would have found their options limited which is where I quote;

During our strategy talks we discussed moving our supply business away from Titan, who were merging with Diamond and to the US based Capital distributors.  We figured out we could import and transport comics to the shop and still get a better price than buying from Titan.  So we got a copy of their trade magazine and placed an order.  Jon had dealt with them before so an account was there and I was sure they would take our order happily and gain a UK customer foothold.  One thing that I didn’t ask, and that Jon didn’t mention, was our current situation with Titan.  It was that situation that would lead to the final moments of the shop, but we will get to that later!

A wee recap of the distribution of comics is in order. Today we get comics shipped in from the States so quickly you can still smell the sweaty armpits of the blokes who loaded up the boxes onto planes in America. It wasn’t always like that. In the 80’s you’d wait weeks, even months for comics to travel the Atlantic to reach the UK. There was only one big UK distributor, Titan, run by Nick Landau and Mike Lake. In the mid 80’s to the early 90’s there was also Neptune, based in Leicester where I worked for a time after moving down from Glasgow in 1988 where I’d previously worked at AKA. In 1993 Neptune was bust and the American distributor Diamond had taken over Neptune’s accounts (Neptune and Diamond always had close links) as they made huge strides into the UK market and global domination. en eventual monopoly on distributing American comics in the UK.

In 1993 Titan were dominant. If you had other sources (and we did in Bristol for some comics) you could get a massive advantage over your competitors. People aren’t loyal on the whole and if there’s a gap in the market, or if the market can be weighted to advantage someone else then a business will do it. Sure there was a time where in the world of comics things were a tad more civil, and cities and towns that have more than one shop often see each other get on personally, but the idea of businesses doing well by each other went the way of frizzy perms and big shoulder pads in the 80’s. So in this background it’s perfectly reasonable for a business to try to fuck off their main supplier if they’re trying to fuck you off.

However things get, well, a tad libellous from here on in.

I would say to make a long story short but there is actually a word that explains what Jon had been doing with Capital.  That word was “fraud”.

‘Fraud’ is one of those things you need to be able to back up when you accuse someone of it. In this case anyone who knows who ‘Jon’ is will be querying where the author of the piece is going to provide documentary proof of this.

See, there’s a number of stories you pick up when you’re involved in an industry. I’ve told stories about people in comics on this blog. Some stories I’ve held back because they’ll be upsetting for friends or they cross a legal, and moral, line or bluntly I’d end up in the shite. The author of the blog doesn’t quite realise just how serious this stuff is or how harmful it can be, which isn’t to say they’re not allowed a voice, but be careful how you’re saying things. Which is an issue as the blog continues on as people are named, in some cases accused of things which having spoken to others who were also there (there’s an incident at the old Empire pub in Glasgow that isn’t quite as it is here) at the time.

Listen, I’m all for gossip and setting the record straight and in this case I can’t give a first hand account of all of what’s discussed on the blog but having discussed it with those who were I have to say that if you are going to discuss events be prepared to ride the ripples from them if you paint a version which doesn’t ring well with others who were there.

Or as the author of the blog says;

Over the years I have overheard my former business partner tell his stories, only the dates have been changed and I know the stories well as I heard them in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they had just happened then.  There is a “glory days” trap and he is in it.  I have no interest any more, he is part of the past and a past I am pleased to be shot of.  As we approach another anniversary of the events outlined I felt it was time to write my part down.  I am sure some would disagree with various details and some might even be offended by what I wrote but it is how I remember it happening.  As details come back to me, as anecdotes come back to me I might update this post.  If anyone who is there jogs a memory I might update as well.  Who knows, the past isn’t written in stone!

Well, here’s my attempt to ‘update’ the past. For the record some of those people mentioned in the blog will be made aware of what’s been said and they I’m sure will be only too glad to disagree with the details and put the record straight.

What I thought of Marvel Two-in-One #3

1970’s Marvel comics are a source of joy and derision. Sometimes both. One of those titles I’ve grown fonder of over the years is Marvel Two In One, one of those titles Marvel, and DC, published where a ‘big name character’ (Spider-Man, Batman, Superman) would team up with another hero in normally, a one-off adventure. Marvel Two In One featured the Fantastic Four’s Thing, a bit of an oddity as although the Fantastic Four sold well in the early 70’s, the idea of sticking The Thing as the ongoing character in a team-up book today seems daft.

These titles also allowed new writers to play around; in this case Steve Gerber was allowed to play with Marvel’s characters and in this issue he throws in Mr. Fantastic as well as Daredevil and the Black Widow.

These comics tended to follow a certain formula. Something would happen to bring our heroes together, they’d argue/fight and then team up to fight the main villain and the story would be wrapped up in 20-24 pages. In this case Daredevil wants his billy club back.

At this point Marvel was building its universe up to the point where any comic would reference any number of other Marvel titles.

This however is a Steve Gerber comic. This means after the soap opera superheroics we get a large chunk of political content which looks amazing even today.

Then it gets insane when Adolf Hitler pops up and he’s hip to the 70’s.

At this point The Thing and Daredevil have a sort-of-fight for the sake of a fight.

After some banter, The Thing and Daredevil team up, fight the bad guys and end up saving the Black Widow who is being controlled by the aforementioned bad guys.

There’s no end here, just a promise of continuing the plot in that month’s issue of Daredevil which seems a cheat but remember these comics were cheap. Kids had a load of disposable income and could buy all the titles they could which is at least what I used to do.

Marvel Two In One is a relic of a bygone age of fun, disposable comics, albeit one with some frankly bizarre political commentary from a writer who at this point was finding his voice as well as his feet in an industry where comics were disposable. Some good, solid Sal Buscema art makes the issue a joy of nostalgia though nothing here is overwhelmingly outstanding, just solid superhero comics that’s fun which is all that matters here.

 

Time to think about the future.

As Jack Nicholson once said, ‘think about the future’.

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After a year of recovering from a stroke and now being in remission from cancer I’m faced with not quite a Year Zero reboot, but more or less a soft reboot of my life and that’s actually a wonderfully empowering thing. So I’m undergoing physio to get better after the stroke and the slipped disc though I’m in some agony after last week’s session after seeing some older chap in his 80’s smash the cross-trainer. Refusing to let my competitive streak stay quiet I decided to try to smash his time which has broken me but this is all good as it helps make me better for the future.

And what do I do in the future? A month ago I wasn’t sure. I was looking at a number of things but over the last month things have coalesced into a few things. I’m still signed off work and expect to be so until probably Easter and then I’ll be fit and able to work, at least for a while as I’ve decided to get myself back into comics. Specifically retail. There’s a large hole in the market here in Glasgow and I intend to fill it. Mainly the issue is the comic shops in Glasgow are  not really comic shops but instead are selling merchandise (toys, lots and lots of toys), don’t prioritise comics (and I don’t just mean superhero comics but the wide range of comics) or are just rank-smelling dens of shite. There was an idea I was juggling around for a shop in Bristol (where there’s also an open goal in terms of a good comic shop) a few years ago but that was rudely stopped when family problems got in the way. That idea (and business plan) can be tweaked for Glasgow.

This means I’m looking to build up stock to supplement my own collection and although I may well take a job just to pass the time until I get the full plan underway (being signed off sick and doing nothing all day is tediously boring) I’ll look to do the marts and conventions soonish once I’ve built up enough of a stock. There’s a few things to sort out before then and of course, I need to be declared fit and able to work which as said I don’t expect this side of Easter, which to be fair is quite impressive considering my near death experiences in the last year or so.

Which means there is a future. A year ago I didn’t think I’d get past the summer. Now I’m planning for what I hope will be for the next decade and longer. It’s been amazingly quick in terms of recovery, but perhaps less of the cross-trainer in the weeks to come…