How one comic collection changed the history of comics

Back in the 1970s the comic book market was slowly melding into place on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was nothing like how it is today. Dealers were still relatively few, and actual bricks and mortar shops were also thin on the ground or part of science fiction and fantasy bookshops. Problem with this is many of the owners of these shops cared little for comics but stocked them to help get people in and make a bit of extra money however one collection turned comic book retailing from a minor hobby for most and a living wage for a few into an industry. It cemented the importance of grade for collectors and made clear how rare some comics are over others.

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The Edgar Church collection was bought by Chuck Rozanski in 1977 and while there’s various versions of the story (spun mainly by fans envious of Chuck’s find) the facts are consistent as laid out by Chuck himself in a lengthy piece on his website. Purchased for around $1,800 (which works out at roughly $7,900 today), Chuck knew he had a bargain not to mention a once in a lifetime deal, Today the collection would be worth $50 million and the last few copies in the wild were auctioned off recently.

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Over the years the story has become myth & there’s many a collection that’s boasted to be Edgar Church pedigree, but in reality they were never of the same quality or number. And although big collections have hit the market in the decades since which did match the Church collection few changed the industry in the was this did.

See, without this Rozanski wouldn’t have grown as he did. Mile High wouldn’t be such an important company as it grew. The benefits of this showed a premium collectors market existed and the profits from this meant that in a few years MIle High would be pushing for what’s now called the Direct Market.  Had that collection been thrown out we’d be in a very different place in the industry.

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On this side of the Atlantic a few copies of the collection made it’s way over here. You’d see as well some American dealers show off copies at conventions back in the 90s, but the UK suffers from having less Golden Age around so prices tend to be higher than in the US so for most of us these comics will only be things we look at in awe.

How did we cope with non-distributed comics in the UK

During the ongoing Covid19 crisis comic books have suffered as much as any industry, but here in the UK there’s some worry about comics not being distributed in the UK while still being shipped across the US. This means we could end up with non-distributed comics in the UK for the first time in over 20 years which means an entire generation may have to deal with what us older fans used to deal with all the bloody time.

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What I mean by a ‘non-distributed’ (ND) is that there was no mainstream newsagent distribution, which is the definition til the late 90s when newsagent distribution of Marvel, DC and any other American publisher ended leaving comic shops in the direct market as the only way to get your comics.  Since then ND comics are now just the occasional thing, so fans in the UK haven’t had to struggle but now we’re back to a situation where comics aren’t shipping to the UK or are in such low numbers they might as well not.

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How did we cope back then, especially trying to read stories where you’d miss a part would be annoying beyond belief, especially if it was an ending. Marvel’s UK reprints helped in this regard but often you’d have to wait years to get that issue you’d been waiting to read. If you lived in a city with a comic shop you might be able to have picked up the issue you needed, or if you managed to visit a mart or a convention you’d find a dealer selling what you need. The fact is even with this safety net you’d miss issues. In fact there’s still storylines I’ve never read all of. Steve Englehart’s Celestial Madonna run in The Avengers being one that leaps instantly to mind.

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So you learned to cope. Of course companies wouljd throw problems at you like in 1981 Marvel skipped two whole months of distributing comics to the UK, so everything dated February and March of that year are ND, which is why otherwise ordinary comics are worth sometimes vastly more than the issues around them. I remember spending years filling in the issues missing, even crap like Rom: Spaceknight.

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Of course with it being 2020 and digital comics being a thing, it is exceptionally hard to miss reading an issue but for collectors it is about having the tactile joy of holding a comic in their hands, though with DC imploding that might be something harder to do in future for readers of DC. So good luck in the months, possibly years ahead. These are strange, scary and uncertain times but as comics fans we will prevail just as we did in the past.

Now off to Amazon to order that Celestial Madonna trade I’ve been meaning to read for years…

Harlan Ellison’s guest of honour speech from Albacon 1985

Back in the distant past of 1985 there was a science fiction convention in Glasgow called Albacon which had the late, great Harlan Ellison as guest of honour. He was supposed to be there in 1984 but couldn’t come that year, so Norman Spinrad stood in for him.

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His guest of honour speech is legend among those who heard it. There was a recording made and for years I had one, but sometime in various house moves it was lost to time.  These days it’d have been slapped online but I gave up on that ages ago which is a bloody shame as it was glorious.

Well, when searching for something else I stumbled across the grail as the speech is in fact online and downloadable. I never thought I’d hear this again in my life. Some of it hasn’t dated well but the thing is a work of someone who was a genius and this is a wonderful bit of SF history.

Listen to it here.

The return of Runaround

Saturday morning used to be the preserve of kids television but these days it’s cooking programmes left, right and centre, which is the same with weekdays. Children’s TV is now relegated to designated channels but back in what feels like the distant past Back in the 1970s especially, children’s TV was an essential part of BBC and ITV’s programming and in some cases, ended up raising people. Many of those programmes though as lost to the modern world but sometimes they come back.

One of those is Runaround. Hosted by cheeky cockernee chappee MIke Reid it was an odd mix of raucous game show and pop bands of the day.

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Broadcast between 1975 and 1981 and this is an example of an average show.

Even though there was some attempts in later series to put in some educational content in the programme but nobody watched it for that. We watched it for the chaos and Mike Reid’s banter with the kids who he sometimes clearly despised in some episodes where he was probably hungover. As you can imagine, there’s no way this sort of programme would be allowed in 2020, but this is a product of the time and back then things were a tad rougher round the edges, and if anyone could work out the rules (which seemed to change weekly) then it’d make it even better.

Thought lost to time it has now returned on the splendid retro channel Talking Pictures each Saturday morning at 9am. For those of a certain age please jump on for some fun nostalgia, and for those too young for that make sure you see this amazing artifact of pop culture.

 

What I thought of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

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Comics biographies can be hit or miss as the person doing it sometimes ends up just being a cheerleader for the person they’re discussing, but in the case of Tom Scioli’s long-awaited biography of Jack Kirby it ends up being needed because if there’s one thing Kirby needs is some cheerleading to offset the decades of Kirby being ignored by the mainstream media.

Scioli does a lot here detailing Kirby’s life, and even if you’re soaked in Kirby history like myself, there’s going to be stuff you’ll read here that you don’t know. For me, it was the World War 2 section where even though I was aware of a lot of it, it really was breaking new ground. Not to mention putting it in context with Kirby’s later life gives it a resonance I’d not previously considered. As an aside I’d also recommend Kirby at War,  an excellent documentary from France which should be on streaming services.

At times the book does screen out other viewpoints of Kirby’s history to give such a one-sided view that critically, it weakens the book. For example, it’s downplayed just how awful Kirby was at business as opposed to say, his former partner Joe Simon, and drawing Kirby as a wide-eyed innocent places him as an instantly sympathetic character, however what Scioli is focusing on is telling Kirby’s story in as much of a way as Kirby would have done his autobiography while setting the world straight. And that really means his relationship with Stan Lee.

Lee is often praised as the man who created, or co-created the Marvel Universe yet comics historians have for decades fought this position, which Scioli does too by laying out a few simple facts including the main one which is what did Lee create prior and after his relationship with Jack Kirby (and Steve Ditko who is a major player here) and the blunt answer is fuck all apart from She-Hulk. Lee’s sole major creation without any aid from Kirby or Ditko was a cash-in on an existing creation.  The facts are that Lee was facing unemployment when Kirby walked through his door, and within five years Marvel had totally turned itself around with Kirby at the very least penciling and writing 8-10 titles a month plus covers, plus annuals. His body of work, and the sheer volume of it throughout the 60’s at Marvel is like no other creative period of anyone else in superhero comics. Ideas would be introduced, used and moved on from in a few pages, whereas today a creative team would milk that idea to the bitter end.

Did Lee play a major part in all this? Yes, he did. Lee’s drive and salesmanship pushed Marvel from a dying company into what it is today. If Lee had never sold comics hard in the 60’s to 80’s then you’re not going to have a cinematic universe and Disney wouldn’t have a billion-dollar money making machine sitting in its lap. But had there been no Kirby, then Lee would have tried selling weird horror tales and giant monster comics. He’d be a footnote in the history of comics so take Kirby out the equation there’s nothing to play with. We know Lee wouldn’t know anything about some of the characters Kirby would create, and we also know Lee would take Kirby’s dialogue and plot ideas and rewrite them often into something lesser than they first started out as.

You can however now make your own mind up properly without the endless pumping Marvel/Disney version of history playing in your head, and now you can get Kirby’s side of the story.  Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, flaws aside, is widly entertaining for what is a history lesson and a much needed counterweight to the myth of Stan Lee. Now perhaps more people can treat Kirby with the respect he deserves.

The Wonderful, Horrible World of E. C. Comics

E.C Comics gave us the finest examples of the medium in America with some of the greatest artists to bless the medium. Some 70 years later it has an influence that lives on, which is why we need to keep celebrating it and that brings me to the online San Diego Comic Con which has a wonderful panel discussing E.C.

Have a look and enjoy.

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

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As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.

 

Glastonbury Festival from 1982

YouTube’s algorithm again does the work I seem unable to and has unearthed this clip from the 1982 festival featuring the music of Jean Philipe Rykiel and the vastly underrated Talisman. However, their performances aren’t the highlight for me at least. For me, it’s the very early footage of the site including the earliest colour ariel footage of the festival once it started being a more or less annual event.

From what I can gather it’s from one of two films, Glastonbury Festival or Glastonbury Pilgrimage. Neither of these I’d heard about before consulting the excellent resource over at UK Rock Festivals and their informative page on the 1982 festival so these are films I’ll have to search out. There’s no map I can find of the 1982 festival online, but from all accounts the 1983 festival was pretty much the same map so here that is.

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To show you how large the festival is now, here’s a 2019 site map.

glasto20191982’s festival would vanish into a very small part of the site as it is, and rumour was the site would have expanded further this year had it taken place. Back in 1982 though you could drive onto site, whereas these days barring a few exceptions, you have to prepare yourself for a very long walk.

Here’s the video. It is a wonderful bit of archive. Enjoy.

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Watch the first ever Rage Against the Machine gig

Working on a few big blogs, but the glorious thing about diving into YouTube is finding little bits of history thanks to the site’s algorithm. And this is a cracker. Rage Against the Machine are an amazing band live who I’ve seen a load of times over the decades but here’s their first-ever live gig. It really is remarkable how fully formed they are at this stage even if a few songs are not quite there yet, so enjoy a wee bit of history.

Return to Glastonbury 1999

The end of the millennium was a strange time. The 90’s had been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, minus the odd bit of genocide and war and we were all looking forward to the 21st century as after all, it could only be a next stage in the evolution of humankind?

Sadly, this was not to be the case but there was a shiny new optimism in 1999, Y2K panic aside of course. That year’s Glastonbury Festival is something I’ve written in detail about previously, was a bit of a mixture as in 1999, Britpop had breathed its last though bands still vainly plugged on for that last big hit, and although Big Beat was a thing music and youth culture was a bit over the place in these pre mass internet days. So the festival’s lineup that year felt like that with no major strand of music one could pull out of it.

 

 

Also the weather played a part. 1997 was muddy but it’d remained dry most of the weekend so was hard work, but still fun. 1998 was just wet, miserable and muddy all weekend, plus the lineup was poor, or acts you looked forward to were shite. It was a terrible year so 1999 was hoped to be dry just so we could have more options than rain and mud.

 

 

Fortunately, it was dry and in fact, on the run-up to the festival it even seemed it could be a ridiculously hot year which it wasn’t. It ended up being a perfect weekend weatherwise. Warm, dry with a wee bit of rain on Saturday to keep the dust down. Getting between stages wasn’t an issue as it was busy, but not rammed as people had clearly been put off coming down without a ticket due to the weather in the previous couple of years.

 

 

I liked 1999’s festival a lot. At the time it felt like a reward for those of us who suffered especialy in 98 which overall, still stands as one of the worst festival I’ve ever been to in 30 years, and the great thing about watching this video footage is just how many great acts played that year. Hole for example were fucking brilliant, and REM still pulled off one of the best headline sets I’ve seen. Watching tens of thousands of people bouncing at the Fun Loving Criminals was awesome in the truest sense of the word, but there was so many dreadful acts milking out a last few rays in the sun.

 

 

So 1999 felt like an end. We’d survived Britpop and the 20th century with a whole fresh new one just six months away, so of course, the festival closed the final one of the millennium with the general averageness of Skunk Anansie.

 

 

Glastonbury 1999 didn’t end with a massive climax, but just sort of faded away. 1999 itself didn’t end with the apocalypse but a lot of hangovers, and maybe a few computers which glitched a bit. 2000 was going to be a great year, and the 21st century was going to be so much more different than the 20th century.

Well, that’s right for sure. I do however miss 1999’s festival. It was fun, and it was a year where the best stuff happened away from the main stages in a lovely disorganised mess and the future looked good. Fast forward two decades and we’re living with far-right lunatics in charge of the UK, and we’re in the middle of a lethal pandemic which has seen me quarantined since March.

Sigh

Bring back 1999…