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.

Let us not forget the Alt-Right are the bad guys

Milo Yiannopoulos is a member of the ‘alt-right’ and is yet again in the news as some students at Glasgow University thought it’d be a jolly wheeze to nominate his as rector of Glasgow University. This has understandably provoked a reaction as we should remember when someone says they’re ‘alt-right’ they’re really Nazis.

‘But Milo is gay and can’t be a Nazi‘ some of you will cry. That’s bollocks. It is perfectly possible to be gay and at the same time hold neo-Nazi beliefs as Yiannopoulos isn’t the only example of the new strain of neo-Nazis who are contradictory in nature so we need to remember this piece of advice…

If it looks like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi and acts like a Nazi it probably is one. Lets not forget that in the years ahead…

The dead places of Glasgow fascinate me

Glasgow has the third oldest underground network in the world.The subway has been around since 1896, and is nicknamed ‘the Clockwork Orange’ due to the fact the line goes in a simple circle on subway maps and the trains are bright orange. I’ve recently returned to Glasgow after 28 years away and the subway still smells and sounds as it did when I was a child, but like any underground network it’s shrouded in ghosts.

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Descending into the subway is like any other in the world. You enter a subterranean world where the world above melts into a world where it seems Morlocks could lurk round every corner as the world above vanishes behind you.

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Once underground you enter a world of smells and sounds like any other.

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The subway in places links up with Glasgow’s railway system, some of which is also underground, and is also, very, very old. Some stations over the years have died leaving only their grafftii-strewn corpses to be hidden by darkness and twilight, not to mention nature reclaiming what was once hers.

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One of those stations is the Botanic Gardens. As a kid I used to explore it with the bravery only children can have in delving into places which you shouldn’t.

These places are haunted by the past, and hounded by the present. They exist as shadows of time lost with only a sign to remind people what lurks nearby.

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Dead places fascinate me. They make me think of what people did in them then before being reclaimed. They make me wonder what might happen to the world if we let nature reclaim everything as opposed to the odd station and building here and there. It fascinates me just how quickly dead buildings are reclaimed.

These places are haunted, not by ghosts of the scary kind but by ghosts of our imagination. I adore these places but even so, they’re not for the faint-hearted…

Let It Snow

Woke up this morning to see this view out my window.

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Now, this is going to be interesting, This is the first time I’ve went out in the snow since my stroke last year and the potential for comedy falls that end up in hospital is probably at a medium level today. So lets see what happens today…

The Glasgow Effect

Ellie Harrison is an artist in Glasgow who a year ago announced her latest project, The Glasgow Effect, to some serious controversy, especially from Glaswegian rapper/commentator Loki who like many pointed out the issues with middle class artists diving into working class problems to make themselves a name, and further their career.

Not to mention The Glasgow Effect is something very real that drags the life expectancy of people in the poorer areas of the city, and with archive documents from the 1970’s revealing government and council policy was to ‘skim the cream’ (shift more affluent families out of Glasgow and into the new towns being built in the land around the city far from the crushing wheels of industry) mixed with a democratic deficit (Glasgow, and indeed, Scotland, doesn’t have control on the democratic levers it needs to change things so people feel their vote is worthless) and an increasingly corrupt city council combines in a cocktail that drags people down in a way people in other comparable cities like Manchester or Liverpool aren’t.

Harrison didn’t endear herself to anti-poverty campaigners by having this image on the website for her project.

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Added to this was her mission statement;

Think Global, Act Local! is year long ‘action research’ project / durational performance, for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside the Strathclyde region. By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic. The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create local opportunities – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the region where she lives.

When I first saw this a year ago when I was still living in Bristol, and also in what I thought was fairly good health and not recovering from a stroke, or being treated for thyroid cancer, I found it not so much as offensive but patronising. After all, people don’t leave their area of Glasgow because they don’t have the money, or the support structure to do so and frankly, someone having a project where they restrict their movement to see how it ”increasing their sense of belonging’ smacks of Millennial self-centredness.

A year on and I’m now back in Glasgow taking time to recover from my stroke, while still receiving cancer treatment. I’m living with a friend in Dennistoun, in the East End of Glasgow while I’m unable to work, even at times unable to walk as I’ve also had a slipped disc since August. This is relevant because it means I’ve been restricted to a limited part of Glasgow which is within coughing distance of some of the worst areas of mortality and poverty not just in the UK, but Europe. Last week I went to Shettleston health centre for some physio, and the area is dripping in poverty. It is also the only area in the whole of the UK where life expectancy is falling. Compared to Dennistoun which is gentrifying for a number of reasons, the differences are stark.

And here’s my problem still with Harrison’s work. She can escape being trapped in a city (and staying in Strathclyde means you’re in a pretty huge area), those most at risk of The Glasgow Effect are trapped. There are people within walking distance of where I type this now who will never, ever leave the city they were born in and will die in.  Not through choice, not because of poor transport (and like many UK cities, transport is poor the further out you go) but because they don’t have the same chances as Ellie Harrison, who made it clear in her year that she managed to travel quite far.

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I also admit that I’m criticising this from a position where once I’m fully fit I’ll be able to have options open up for me, and right now I’ve settled on a half dozen or so possibilities, but again, I’m lucky. I appreciate the fact I’m lucky, and it strikes me from reading and watching Harrison’s statements upon completion of the project it seems clear to me that this is nothing but onanistic middle class backslapping. I don’t think the fact that Harrison spent a year restricting herself to Strathclyde benefited anyone but Harrison herself, and that it isn’t going to make some kiddie in Shettleston who is born into generational poverty feel that they’ve got opportunities.

There’s a long, and lengthy history of the middle class, and of a mainly establishment media, speaking for and down to, the working class. Assuming they’re considered at all, and of course there are virtually no working class voices in the media, which made Loki’s criticism of The Glasgow Effect welcome but ultimately Harrison left her restrictions. Most trapped in the crushing generational poverty in Glasgow don’t, and glib art projects like this don’t help. It makes the working class; the poor; the vulnerable subjects to be poked and prodded at. Rats in a cage as you will. A year long art project has only massaged the egos and consciences of people who can sail past the real Glasgow Effect quite easily and as soon as this stunt is forgotten, few in Scotland’s media will care about people dying far too young in parts of Glasgow.

The colour of the Earth: A cancer story

Thanks to the move from Bristol to Glasgow, and the little bit extra waiting time, I’d not seen a consultant since October before the move back and quite frankly I’d started worrying a lot about things since stopping work a month ago and actually having time to recuperate after having worked (mainly through necessity due to having an employer who had zero empathy, understanding or decency to allow me the time off I needed, but that’s not something I’m going to go into as Macmillan may well pick that issue up for me) has meant few real distractions and that has led to me constantly thinking the worst is coming which means the world is constantly being filtered through black spiky filters.

Well, today I saw my new consultant at the Beatson, the West of Scotland cancer centre who’s staff are brilliant, but the centre itself is an arsehole to get to, which in my post-stroke recovery, mixed with the constant pain of my slipped disc means taxis. Hey ho, at least I can brush up on my Glasgow patter in what are lengthy taxi rides.

So, after arriving I was kindly shown to the right waiting room in the labyrinth of corridors, and noticed right away there was some interesting reading material on display.

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Yup, that a Wee Bleu Book and a Wee Black Book from Wings Over Scotland on display in a hospital waiting room, which makes a nice change from a tired old copy of Heat, and maybe an old copy of the Radio Times. Anyhow, after a fairly short wait I was taken into a room by my new consultant and after some examinations as well as questioning, I’ve now had my future laid out for me.

In six weeks time I’m going to have a series of injections, some more radio-iodine, and as long as my Thyroglobulin levels are fine (basically zero as if I’ve got any Thyroglobulin in my system it means I’ve still got some cancerous thyroid tissue in my body) my cancer will officially be in remission and I’ll have my life back once and for all, albeit that the stroke recovery is going well and my slipped disc is also dealt with.

This hopefully last treatment kicks off on the 7th of February, the day after my birthday. It was going to be the 6th, but my consultant looked at the date and said he couldn’t possibly give me injections on my birthday. Next week I go back to my GP to hopefully find out how they can sort out my slipped disc but in terms of the cancer there’s either going to be a final treatment in February, or I’ll be looking at more treatment, including surgery. I’ll find out in six weeks.

Mind Your Language

Moving back to Glasgow after several decades is an interesting experience in terms of language and dialect, as in picking it up again, or seeing how the decades and things like gentrification have changed how people speak.

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Language changes all the time, but words and phrases get lost in time. This piece from Dominic Wells is the out-takes from an interview with Alan Moore has a relevant point to make which rings true of my current experience as well as having a pop at Sun readers, which is nice.

“To be able to read the Sun, I think you need 100,000 words in your vocabulary; that’s a Sun reader’s vocabulary. [NB: Alan Moore is massively overestimating here, perhaps owing to his own sesquipedalian range. The average vocabulary is 20,000-35,000 words.] So that is painfully limited. And by the opposite thesis, if you expand the amount of words within a person’s reach, you’re also expanding their consciousness, potentially.

“It’s this whole thing of perception, and our perception is made of words. Language precedes consciousness, we are told, and also you can see it even in the present day. Say, for example, before we had the word ‘paedophile’. Or before we had that word in common clearly understood usage. Isn’t it funny how all the paedophiles appeared after that word? You’ll sometimes talk to old people, and they’ll say, ‘well, we never had those paedophiles when I was a girl or I was a boy’, and I’m ‘yeah you did, you just didn’t have a word for it’. So it was worse then, because you couldn’t even conceive of them.

“So yeah, in Jerusalem there is a strong strand about the development of language. Take ‘Third Borough’ [which in Jerusalem is the word used for the deity]. In the early 20th century there was a Third Borough in the Boroughs [the area of Northampton in which Jerusalem is set]. What they were was a combination of rent man and policeman. If somebody defaulted on their rent, they would be collecting the rent and also punishing the defaulter. “The word ‘Third Borough’ doesn’t exist anywhere outside Northampton, and is believed to be a corruption of a Saxon term, ‘frith burhh’, which meant a tithing map.

“As far as I know, ‘deathmongers’ [who assist at both births and deaths] didn’t exist outside the Boroughs. Maybe there were people who fulfilled that function, but they weren’t called deathmongers; and they probably didn’t have quite the same aura. So I wanted to be build this up from the language, the lost language of Northampton.”

I’ve moved back to Glasgow and my own language, accent and dialect is a mongrel mix of all the places I’ve lived. There’s Glasgow in there, a bit of Liverpool, a lot of Bristol, some London, and a chunk of East Midlands. In the three weeks or so I’ve been back I’ve been considered as English, had a chat with some folk from Macmillan who thought me to be from Edinburgh.

But it’s language that’s the most fascinating for me. As Moore says in that excerpt there’s words which are only used locally. Take the Glasgow phrase, ‘a doing/doin’ meaning giving someone a beating when you’re having a benny, which is a Bristolian phrase meaning you’re losing your temper. I don’t know anywhere that uses these words and it’s wonderful such local phrases add to the culture of areas like Glasgow or Bristol.

What is a pity is how these snippets of local language is being lost, or not being used as often as estuary English dominates, and gentrification drives traditional communities, and their language/dialect gets lost. People like Alan Moore who try to keep these bits of ancient language, and the history behind it, alive are to be applauded as we all face a future of sounding like a CBBC presenter…