The horror of the second speculator era of comics

First of all here’s a nice video giving a basic rundown of the first big speculator era back in the 90s.

It was a glorious time for a while. Comics published a day or two ago would be hitting 50 quid and higher by the weekend. Massive amounts of money was spent by speculators and dealers, while publishers pumped out masses and masses of shite, much of it being utterly unreadable.Market went BOOM and overnight dealers and companies were dropping like flies.

Fast forward to 2021 and the market now is bloated with variant covers not to mention speculators pushing the prices of comics to the level where they’re unaffordable to most people. At least in the 90’s a ‘key book; would be expensive but you didn’t have to have a Swiss bank account to look at one. Added to the horror of slabbing comics it means vitally important, major comics will never, ever be read which destroys the purpose of what a comic is. It is to be read, and if you want, collected so you can read it again.

A mix of the Covid pandemic, a lack of conventions/marts and Youtube channels like Comictom101 are pushing this agenda at the expense of the medium. Speculation doesn’t help grow the medium or improve the quality of mainstream comics, or stop creators writing purely for their Netflix deal. It just creates a bubble and that bubble is unsustainable for collectors which is going to be dismal for the industry overall. But yet the bubble grows.

What worries me is the POP when the bubble bursts.The industry as a whole for your mainstream Marvel/DC title is not anywhere near as secure as the 90s, nor are there the same quality of creators, especially now Substack has signed consistantly selling Big Two creators leaving Marvel and DC with not an awful lot. So we shall see, but I dread the worst in a few years time once superhero fatigue kicks in.

20 years of 9/11

It is astonishing to me that 20 years have passed since 9/11, which means there are people now becoming adults who have known nothing but the 911 era and can’t remember the relative decade of peace (unless you lived somewhere like The Balkans) tyhat had taken place just before it. At the time it was very, very clear the world was going to change, yet few would have predicted the Taliban winning the war 20 years later while even more barbaric fundamentalists have emerged since then, both in the Middle East and America, while the lives of ordinary women, gays and lesbians come under threat worldwide by very different types of fundamentalism.

And all of this and more came out of that glorious autumn morning 20 years ago.

I always remember new things about it. Only this week I was telling a mate about how all the news websites went down through the sheer weight of people trying to get onto them (and this was in the days of dial-up so there were nowhere near the numbers of internet users there are today) so you had to go onto message boards to find out what information you could. For example, the Fortean Times site ended up being a great resource as news sites were crashing, but by late afternoon UK time news sites were coming back online, in a somewhat basic form. Sadly much of that digital record is lost so the best reord of how the world reacted that day is lost.

But we’re now two decades into whatever this is and there’s no signs of whatever this is ending as we have no leaders on any side capable of bringing it to an end which is why part of me sees myself worrying about this carnage probably til I die, and those born in the era of 9/11 will never know any better. .

Geordie Protect & Survive

If kids today think they can’t cope with potential armageddon, then cast your mind back to the time when armageddon could have been any minute of any day anytime from the late 50s through to the early 90s thanks to the very real threat of nuclear war. There was even a time when people not just thought they’d win such a was but also that people would survive it by stocking up on Fray Bentos pies, cat litter and remembering to wrap your nan in black bags and throw her out on the street for the council to pick up. How we got through the 80’s especially is a mystery still, but we did only to face another type of armageddon further down the line.

So people thought we’d survive and this resulted in utterly bizarre bits of fiction being peddled by governments like this bizarre, surreal bullshit in the video below. Check it Out was a kids programme, and taking a break from it’s usual stuff it decided to show us how to survive the end of life as we know it in the most children’s TV way possible.


The theft of Jack Kirby

Most comics fans with even a passing interest in the medium and its history will be aware of how badly the industry has suffered from people stealing original art from publishers and selling it to collectors. The most famous case being that of Jack Kirby who throughout his career must have seen hundreds of pages ‘vanish’ only to have them reappear on the secondary market. There’s an excellent blog here detailing the issue, and it is one which a number of people really, really, really fucking hate talking about for all the reasons in the world popping in your head right now.

Jack Kirby original art for Captain America #197 | Jack kirby art, Jack  kirby, Kirby

There was a few conventions in the 90’s in London where dealers from the US would have piles of art from the likes of Kirby, plus Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Steranko, and loads more for not insane prices compared with what any of those pages would go for today. The feeling at the time was many of these pages were stolen, or passed on from the original theif as after all, this was a goldmine of comics history being sold for a bargain. Just what you’d do if you want to shift hot goods quickly.

As mentioned before, this is barely spoken about because it involves picking a scab and what might come from it isn’t good. We know some artists,writers, editors (I’m not naming names, but the likes of Howard Chaykin have often over the years) and all and sundry would help themselves (struggling with rent? Grab a few pages, sell them to collectors and you’re back on track) so when Kirby had his art returned to him by Marvel, hundreds of pages ere missing. Other artists have seen pages for sale that they were told was lost while every now and then you’ll hear rumours of a black market of art thought lost but being traded by rich collectors. There’s a serious business now in collecting original art, and as everything is a one of a kind, there’s the fact it’ll never be replaced so next time you see a load of art on sale wonder where exactly that art came from and also ask if the artist/s are getting a penny from it?

Nirvana live in Newcastle 1991

I saw Nirvana around half a dozen or so times with each time being an experience for one reason or another but the one time I missed out was seeing them play in Newcastle, partly because it was in the legendary Mayfair, a nightclub of many rooms with dark corners where young people of the age did glorious things with drugs and other people’s body parts.

I was a tad annoyed as one can imagine so thanks again to YouTube and the person who had the foresight to go to one of NEwcastle’s finest clubs on one of its best night with a camcorder so this night can be preserved for folk like me.

The world of Super 8 home films

Today if you want to see a film all you need to do is turn your TV on, go to any streaming site and pretty much anything you want is there. If it isn’t then there’s plenty of ways to find it. IT never used to be like this of course. Once we all had to get up off our arses to go to the video shop like a Blockbuster, or if we really liked a film you can buy it on VHS, then DVD and now Blu-Ray. Now imagine a time when you couldn’t just watch your favourite film but instead had to do with a Super 8 version of the film which was heavily edited down to normally around half an hour, if you were lucky. These versions of films did not mess around as they had to effectively act as highlights while staying true to the full version.

Here’s Alien as an example.

The chestburster happens around seven minutes into its 17 minute running time, leaving 10 minutes to cram everything else in. As for Star Wars, you dare not blink or you’ll miss something.

Same goes for The Empire Strikes Back.

Go to YouTube and there’s hundreds of them there in a handy playlist, and be warned some of these condensed films are literally less than highlights. Jaws for example runs just over ten minutes!

Yet there’s a charm to all these films. For years they were the only ways to see a film unless it was rereleased or it happened to pop up on TV, which for new films at the time would be years. An actual print of the full film would be out of the price range of most people, assuming they had the equipment and space to show them in. Super 8 versions could be shown on your wall.

These films are now massively collectable odddites from a pre-digital age where you had to improvise to see a film you liked, and these highlight reels were great pre-video solutions to a demand. I had a few of them but sadly sold them some years ago because they were gathering dust, but these clunky gems of memorbillia are things I wish I’d kept. Especially considering the current value of many of them…

Rock City in Nottingham is 40 years old

In the early 90’s I spent just over a year living in Nottingham, not because it was handier for work (which it was as it allowed me to live near where I could work) but because the nightclub/venue Rock City was there.

Rock City formed a large part of my formative youth when I moved from Glasgow to Leicester, and although dirty, sleazy alternative clubs were a thing in Glasgow nothing came close to Rock City. My first time there was for ‘alternative night’ which was a Saturday then. Walking up the wee hill to the venue I saw some poor lad being thrown face first out the club by the quite fearsome door staff who helped ensure there was very little trouble in the place.

Back in the late 80’s, and much of the 90’s I’d go up there for a gig, a night out or one of the legendary all-nighters. An all day session would involve starting in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, then some chips, and then to the Salutation, before making our way to Rock City where by this point everyone is happily drunk and then the insanity really begins. The next day would see you wake up in a mess on someone’s floor/couch/bed or by some miracle you made it back home!

One of my best times there was when Nirvana played in 1991 just as they became huge. I’d bumped into the band coming out of Selectadisc (a now closed legendary record shop) while I was dropping some comics off at a shop in town. A blurted hello, and a smile back from the band made my day as did their gig that evening in what was a dangerously overcrowded venue.

You can get a jist of the night in the video below.

But moving away from the East Midlands meant visits were less, plus old age, and now disablity means clubbing is a chore, but the memories of the nights there will keep me going for ages, assuming I can remember most of them…

40 years ago John Lennon died

40 years ago I got up on a cold, dark winter morning to go to school as a child basically barely a teenager to do my normal daily routine of getting up to go to school. yet this day in 1980 was different. There was a solumn tone in my mother’s voice, and something weird to me, which was shock about the murder of John Lennon.

The Beatles were sacred cows growing up, Lennon especially with his antiauthoritarian nature, but mostly because of the music. Lennon was a household hero, so in the early hours of the 9th December the news broke in the UK that John Lennon had been killed in the New York on the evening of the 8th of December. In those pre-internet days news travelled by the speed of a phone call. The spread of information seems glacial compared to today when one can follow breaking stories like this is real time online.

So it was that the news broke, again in those days things were more formal, less emotional in the bleak cold start to what would be a pretty awful winter for the UK. It wasn’t til years later that I realised the importance of it all, and how it would affect music and culture. Lennon was not a god, but a flawed man who used his position to try to do more than just make pop songs which today is a rare thing indeed.

And so here’s the BBC news broadcast from the evening and it is a wonderful bit of archive of a time long gone.

A quick word of praise for Oliver Stone’s JFK

Back in 1963 John F. Kennedy was murdered on the steeets of Dallas, and in that one action the modern conspiracy theory was born. Nearly 30 years later Oliver Stone makes one of the best films I’ve ever seen on an absolute tissue of bullshit, but with many conspiracy theories, there’s an element of something in it, which is often even more shite, but in the case of JFK, it’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in insanity.

I first saw it in a cinema in Nottingham on a cold afternoon, and loved it. It was also the last film I saw with an actual intermission (which came before Donald Sutherland’s character’s massive info-dump) in which I ended up chatting in the bar with a well-dressed woman in her early 30s called Gill who ended up being a massive JFK conspiraacy theorist who ended up pre-emptying much of what Sutherland’s character was to say. After the film we carried on chatting for hours in the pub, then at hers, mainly about the veracity of Lee Harvey Oswald as lone gunman.

JFK is one of those films that turns ordinary people into conspiracy theorist because it’s a brilliantly made piece of propaganda. Do I think there was a massive conspiracy to kill Kenndy as portrayed in the film? No, but I don’t think there was a lone gunman and I do think there was a massive cover up of something but I’m not exactly sure what and that’s partly because of Stone’s film, and of people like Gill who took me down rabbit holes that today are almost infinite thanks to the internet.

This is a film that grabs you at the start, throws you end slowly, and by the time Donald Sutherland turns up to thrust you all the way under, has you under it’s spell. Brilliantly acted, directed and edited, JFK is a number of things from thriller, to conspiracy theory, to the background family drama which is really there to give Sissy Spacek something to do. Though as the years go on I see its flaws more; the film is at times unintentionally homophobic, especially in the extended cut. Also it is sexist as women in this film are reduced to victims or background dressing but ultimately this is a film which although not Stone’s best film (which for me is still Natural Born Killers) it is certainly the film of his I’m drawn back to over and over as new things are to be found with each viewing.

I love the film. I wish Stone could go back to this quality of filmaking, however this will remain as a testement to how to make a great film for decades to come. Go watch it again if you’ve not seen it in years, or just watch it for the first time ever.

RIP Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is dead at the all too young age of 60, and the world loses an artist and a footballer, and if you think football can’t be art then look at this goal.

Back in the olden days before the English Premier League and modern football blandified the game, there were players like Cruyff, Dalglish and Best who strode like giants in the game but were also far from being bland figures routinely rolling off perfectly trained media soundbites.Then there was Maradona who was in a class of his own, and getting the chance to watch him play on the rare chance you coujld back in the 80’s was amazing. Those days didn’t have 24/7 football coverage of the game at almost all levels and overseas football certainly was rarely, if ever shown outwith of things like the European Cup.

So seeing Maradona do magical things with a football in grainly, crackly footage do stuff with a ball was astonishing. Watching him pull his country Argentina up by the short and curlies in 1986 and win that year’s World Cup was amazing. The man was a footballing genius. Less said about some of his off-pitch antics, but let’s focus on what the man didn on the pitch as a genuine working class here who pulled himself up from nowhere to become the greatest footballer of all time.

I’ll miss him. Hearing of his latest venture always made me smile, but watching him in his prime made me fill with joy. He’s going to leave a massive hole in the game.