The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Seven

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Part Six.

1991 was a fucking crap year for me. Really crap. There were however some highlights which included the schadenfreude of watching Neptune implode from outside after I’d left. I was still involved in comics after my time in London at Comic Showcase with Chris and Maurice from Bristol who I was now helping out not just at comic marts in London, but I was now regularly going down to Bristol (where they were based) to help them prepare for the marts they’d do across the country from Leeds to Cardiff to London.

Neptune however marched on without me. In the autumn of 1990 Apocalypse Ltd (the company Geoff set up to publish Toxic!) brought out their first comic, a Marshal Law one-shot called Kingdom of the Blind.

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This was a huge deal as we’d managed to get Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill to bring Marshal Law to us from Epic Comics, a subsidiary of Marvel Comics. It was a massive coup for what was still a small independent publisher based out of a drafty warehouse in Leicester next to a dodgy pub. Incidentally this is what it looks like now according to Google.

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I wonder if the current occupants have any idea of the buildings small part in the history of comics?

Anyhow, Toxic! was due to come out in March 1991. This was against the advice of Pat Mills, Kev O’Neill, the editorial staff brought in and anyone who was remotely sane, but Geoff was insistent before I left it’d be out in the spring even though I was there where Kev O’Neill told him that there was no way he could cope with a weekly schedule and maintain quality. Kev had also done most of the design and art direction for Toxic! so his workload was enormous, and frankly, he wasn’t getting the rewards financially for it. John Wagner was so fed up with it before it came out that once he had strips rejected ( Button Man is the most famous example, but I understand others were rejected) and The Bogie Man strip stalled after a few episodes. John however had been lured back to Fleetway so turned his attention back to Judge Dredd.

Toxic! did feature new creators but the heavy lifting was really done by Alan Grant and Pat Mills who ensured there were strips in there every week. Two strips in particular took off; Sex Warrior and Accident Man especially built up a strong following.

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It was however Marshal Law which was the lead character and the Judge Dredd of Toxic!, but as Kev O’Neill warned, he couldn’t keep up the schedule so weeks would pass without it’s main draw and that hurt sales.

Of course I was getting all of this filtered second hand via people still within Neptune of from creators or people involved with Toxic!/Trident Comics. John McShane had decided to knock things on the head, and Geoff was losing whatever favours he’d built up, plus the word from the US was that he was unreliable. Then again he’d had an awful reputation with small publishers because of his combative nature. To go back a bit, an example of this is when Alan Moore’s Big Numbers was due to come out he spent a day arguing with Debbie Delano (one of the team involved with publish Big Numbers through Moore’s company Mad Love) about pricing of the comic which ended up with Geoff ranting about Moore himself as it ended up with Moore having to step in to sort it all out. That act I understand ended up with Geoff getting an awful name among some creators who may have considered working for him.

At the same time Trident Comics plugged on with Martin Skidmore doing what he could to get people to work for next to nothing, which thankfully, Mark Millar did as he was the clear star Trident discovered. The problem was that the core of the business, the distribution, was falling to pieces. At the end of 1990 I was in London working for Comic Showcase and heard vague rumbles of bad things at Neptune as Geoff’s affair with Viv had become common knowledge which caused her to leave and things to be exceptionally stressed as all the people who’d helped build up Neptune for four years had now left, or been forced to leave mainly due to Geoff’s hubris. Later in 1991 while living in Nottingham I was still in touch with Neptune/Trident staff, not to mention still involved with comics so I heard how things broke down quickly.

Toxic! lasted 31 issues. By around half way through these issues the quality dipped as they started to use material meant for the anthology Trident or worse, rejected material, in order to make up for the fact John Wagner had left, Pat Mills had left (though legend has it that Pat did turn up at the Leicester warehouse with a couple of large gentlemen to claim what Geoff owed him), Kev O’Neill had gone and only Alan Grant still bothered to write material for them. Trident Comics folded not long after Toxic! died.

As for Neptune it too died in 1992 when Diamond (who by this point were looking for an avenue to get a toehold in the UK market) bought out Neptune thanks to the fact Geoff had ranked up so much debt with them that Diamond just moved into the UK taking a large portion of the UK market that Neptune had spent nearly six years building up. This put them up against Titan who were then bought by Diamond making Mike Lake and Nick Landau merrily wealthy men, but enabled a monopoly of comic distribution in the UK that is now so ironclad that it’s impossible (until the recent rise of digital comics and sites like Comixology) to break. If you want a hard copy of a comic in the UK, it’s 99% certain it’s been shipped by Diamond so we’re now back in the same situation we were in 1985 with one monolithic distributor essentially shaping people’s reading habits because of their links to the big players (Marvel and DC) in the direct market.

Yes, people now get their comics the day after they’re printed in the US, but private monopolies like Diamond aren’t healthy which is why it’s helped shape comic shops into selling mainstream material as Diamond’s cut off point for inclusion in their catalogue would make something like Trident Comics impossible on the whole now. It’s a major fight to get anything new into Diamond so we’re actually in a stale, regressive phase, yet the rise of digital comics and the variety of genres shows there’s a better future awaiting comics than just men in spandex twatting each other.

So by the end of 1992 Neptune was dead. Toxic! and Trident Comics were over. All brought down by one man’s impatience, his hubris and his inability to control his temper or where he put his penis. Yet the story isn’t actually over as I’ll explain in the next part of this ever-increasing series of blogs….

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Six

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five.

By the summer of 1990 Neptune was still wildly successful but the cracks were showing. One of the original three founders of Neptune was leaving, Toxic! was being rushed into a spring 1991 releases instead of an autumn 91, or even a spring 92 release, and Geoff was acting weirdly in that he was trying hard to be everyone’s mate, but there were rumours he was having an affair with a girl in marketing, Viv. Even the secretary Carolyn who normally didn’t say anything too negative was joining us downstairs in the warehouse for large gossiping sessions, and Martin Skidmore was dashing around like a dervish telling anyone who’d listen about Geoff and Viv at GLASCAC.

I still carried on my by now normal life that summer so lots of going out in Leicester and London, plus trips to Glasgow to sell comics and see friends there. I’d got through that summer which meant enduring another shockingly early early exit from a Scotland side at a World Cup, but as we were going into the autumn Geoff was acting sketchy. The height of this was a shouting match between him and Viv in his office that had Martin Skidmore come down to tell us what was going on and we all sussed out what the argument was about. I later found out she wanted to stop the affair but Geoff wanted to carry it on, even though by now his wife Sarah was back at work and well, things upstairs in the office was tense to say the least. I focused on just getting on with it and making things in the warehouse tick over. By now things were running so smoothly that Geoff wasn’t needed and on the occasions he did come downstairs to help us pull comics he would end up getting in the way, so would quickly vanish as quickly as he’d appeared.

What brought things to a head was that initially I wanted a weekend off for Reading Festival that year but things were tight as Martin had left, so we were running short of people, but I got the weekend off anyhow even though I ended up not going. I think I ended up dossing around with my flatmates and ending up down the pub. This pissed Geoff off even though by this point I’d not taken any time off apart from GLASCAC that spring and frankly, what I do with time off isn’t the matter for any employer of mine. This ended up in a huge shouting match between myself and Geoff that ended up with people stepping in between us to stop blows, and resulted in me quitting the next day. Thankfully I had some savings plus my last month’s wages but truth was I played my cards too early and should have really quit just after I’d done a mart with at least a few grand in the bank to cushion the blow.

After I quit I ended up going round Neil’s house who then spent the afternoon getting drunk with me and watching the Mad Max trilogy as you do in these situations. Drinking solves all….

In September of that year the annual UKCAC was happening in London and Neil and myself had decided to go down and help out Chris and Maurice from Bristol at their enormous pitch they always had at these conventions. We’d get the coach down early on the Saturday morning, meet up with Chris and Maurice and then worry about where we were going to stay later on in the bar. That UKCAC was also the official launch of Toxic! which was a big, big deal.

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Of course Neil and myself bumped into Geoff in an awkward meeting that was made even worse by the fact that Geoff had already walked past me as I was talking of Paul Hudson of Comic Showcase (one of Neptune’s largest customers) as he was offering me a job, which at the time, moving to London seemed attractive.

That Saturday night saw us drinking in the bar, which is exactly what British conventions are like most of the time (I will have a wee winge that some cons  now seem to have lost the social aspects as they’re just marketing conferences for film & TV companies to sell you shite) so we dived in and drunk heavily. During the night we bumped into Martin Skidmore who had his two or three beers and was merry. Somehow Martin agreed to let Neil and myself crash in his hotel room which was being fully paid for by Geoff, expenses included! This was a red rag to Neil and myself so we dined deep on Geoff’s abundant wallet.

We’d heard from Martin about how things were tense at the warehouse in Leicester, and that the open knowledge of Geoff’s affair was the sneaky gossip when Geoff wasn’t around. The evening wasn’t complete though without abusing the hotel’s room service so we ordered sandwiches and beers, lots of beers, while Neil called Tod in the US which back in 1990 must have cost a fortune. Essentially, we took the piss and wallowed in it til the wee small hours. It was our one last ‘fuck you’ at Geoff which ended up with poor Martin getting some earache but he found it enormously funny. I ended up nearly losing the job offer from Paul at Comic Showcase, but ultimately Paul thought ‘fuck it’ and realised that he’d quite liked to have done the same too. Sadly the whole London experience was so horrendous (though not being at Showcase, that was wonderful and the guys there were fantastic) I didn’t last in London too long. That however, is a tale for another time.

The next morning we left Martin snoring away and wandered the streets for a bit to sober up before diving into the final day of UKCAC to help Chris and Maurice, who I’d end up helping out on a regular basis a few short months later and indeed, we still drag our old bones out for marts and cons to this very day. 

Just because I had left Neptune it didn’t mean I was out of touch or didn’t know what was going on. though it did take me the better part of a decade or so to get the gory story of it’s final downfall and what happened to Geoff after it all fell apart. In the next part of this blog I’ll go into those details, including that Pat Mills story, and (assuming I can find them) some odds and sods that as far as I know aren’t online, what Geoff did after comics, and what all this meant for the British comics industry today.

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Five

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

1990 was a new decade. The Cold War was over and there was a general feeling of enormous optimism even though the UK still had Thatcher in power but the feeling was that things were about to change. This certainly was the case at Neptune where we ended 1989 on an enormous high with the distribution side going well, Trident Comics going well and plans for what would become Toxic! going ahead full steam. Neptune had established a permanent office near Gatwick Airport where Martin and Paul, a chap who used to work for customs there had been lured across. Todd still manned the US office in New York, while the Manchester office fell though, we’d taken on Nigel who lived in Nottingham which meant we could do drops not just there, but Leeds and Sheffield. At Leicester we’d taken on another Paul to help myself and John (and frankly I needed someone normal to talk to) as well as Adam and Viv, who were primarily sales and marketing as Geoff took an increasingly back seat in the distribution side, but often ended up pulling comics with me. Both were young graduates and Viv helped increase the balance of sexes in the company as it was a very, very male orientated company.

The idea was to structure Neptune into a proper company with a MD, directors, sales/marketing staff. experienced warehouse staff to help me and Trident/Apocalypse would be the preserve of Geoff, Martin Skidmore and John McShane. For a while it worked. Yes, sometimes Geoff had to step in to help out Adam or Viv, and even occasionally he’d come down to the warehouse to help pull some comics to get away from Sarah who was heavily pregnant. Basically things were hard work but they were fun.

I was spending my spare time flitting between drinking myself into a haze in Leicester, or doing the same in London and Glasgow, though by this point I’d been introduced to my first E and thus became a bit of a lovely association with the drug. I’d also started selling off large chunks of my own rather large and increasing collection, not to mention I was buying new comics from Neptune plus I was getting comics cheap from Chris Bacon and Maurice Pitman, a couple of comic dealers from Bristol who’d been introduced to me by Neil, and that I still help out to this day. Though we are older and heavier than we were back in those young, sexy days!

I’d do comic marts in Glasgow which meant shipping my stuff up to AKA, getting them dropped off at my table at whatever venue these marts would take place. Sell loads and come back with massive wads of cash in my pocket even after a night out drinking heavily. I remember one such occasion where I’d went to Glasgow for a mart, and been introduced properly to Bridget (one of the new AKA lads’ Andy Sweeney’s girlfriend, and who is one of the crew who come to Glastonbury now with me) ), she helped me sell hundreds or pounds of comics and from then on in things are a blur. I remember having a meal, going to a pub going with Dominic Regan to a house party and then the next thing I remember is waking up in a bed with around four people passed out on top of each other. Thankfully I’d stashed my takings at AKA but I was in a house somewhere in Glasgow and I needed to get back to AKA, grab my bags, grab a taxi and get my plane back to London so I could get to Kilburn to see a gig at the Town and Country club, before eventually heading back to Leicester on Monday and sleeping. I remember waking someone up, finding out where I was. Calling a taxi and telling the taxi driver to take me to Virginia Galleries so I could pick up my stuff from AKA and then to take me to Glasgow Airport. Frankly, the look of disgust the driver was throwing at me was immense. Then again my hair looked like four people slept on it, I smelled of people who weren’t me, and I looked liked I’d been ingesting pure alcohol laced with MDMA for a week. The driver did indeed wait for me outside AKA as I grabbed my rucksack and my briefcase which contained over a grand in cash (after paying for shipping to and from Glasgow, tables and bunging Bridget some cash) which in 1990 was an impressive haul for a mart. I took the cash out the briefcase and stuffed it into a pocket of my leather jacket.

By now I didn’t give a fuck about pissing this taxi driver off. He clearly thought I was taking the piss but as we pulled up outside Glasgow Airport I pulled out a wad of cash and for some reason the driver was suddenly amazingly nice to me. He even offered me his business card as he probably thought I was either a drug dealer or involved in something to do with media/music. Little did he know it was worse than that, it was comics!

This was my life. I utterly loved it. I really didn’t want to give it all up and I could stomach dealing with Geoff’s rants though these were becoming less in relation to the distribution side which by now was a well oiled machine. The rants were being thrown at poor Martin Skidmore who was trying to straddle the line between being an editor and a mate to some of Trident’s creators. Fortunately Mark Millar was astonishingly professional for one so young and inexperienced and if he’d not turned out scripts on time Trident Comics would have floundered. We’d even started plans for another ongoing comic to be written by Mark and drawn by Andrew Hope; The Shadowmen. The idea was to make Mark our superstar writer and the next Grant Morrison, a quote that Geoff said often and little did we know how prophetic that phrase would actually be.

During the week my routine developed into drinking at the Pump and Tap in Leicester, going for late drinks at Que Pasa, the tapas restaurant just across the road from the Pump, then going home to pass out and get up in the morning to pull comics/sell comics to shops across the UK/do anything to avoid engaging John in a conversation about Star Trek. Considering how much I put into my body back then I’m amazed I got past my 25th birthday but I was in my early 20’s, doing a fun job working with some good people and things I enjoyed, plus I had a lot of disposable income. Neptune wasn’t just stable, it was growing and I by now was getting a lot of benefits from the company, so coming up to the first Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) in the spring of 1990 things were brilliant.

The planning for this first GLASCAC was immense. I know in these days of comic conventions saying this every five minutes this seems like hyperbole but in 1990, this wasn’t. That first GLASCAC was massively important not only in helping Neptune maintain a public image, but for Trident Comics and Toxic! (which now had been named to much disagreement) to be launched with a provisional autumn 1991 launch. We’d spent weeks working out what we’d do and how we’d not only promote ourselves at GLASCAC, but somehow get that week’s comics out. So a plan was hatched.

Geoff, Viv and Martin Skidmore would fly up from Leicester on Friday afternoon, link up with John McShane at AKA and meet and greet John Wagner, Alan Grant and Kev O’Neill. Myself and Nigel would fly up from London after doing that week’s comics So on the Friday morning myself, Nigel and John made our way in the van to Staines (where we had a warehouse) to await the delivery. Except we got a call from Martin in Gatwick that the delivery was delayed which put our flights at risk. Again, a plan was hatched. We’d pick up the shipment from Heathrow and instead of taking it to the warehouse in Staines we’d create a shipping area outside the ANC warehouse next to Heathrow. This meant that the workers at ANC saw the astonishing sight of five grown men pulling out comics out of one box to put them in another box, but we somehow managed to get it all done, though Nigel and myself still had to get to the terminal, check in and get on our plane. Thankfully we could count upon Martin driving like a lunatic as he dumped us outside our terminal, sprinted inside, checked in and got to the departure lounge with minutes to spare.

Once on the plane we started laughing like nutters as we’d been up for hours, hadn’t eaten all day and were now enjoying some large G & T’s. We’d managed to change in the toilets of Heathrow but we still looked worn out but never forget the healing power of gin, plus I’d managed to sneak some speed on the plane hidden in my boots which helped.

Upon arriving in Glasgow we made our way to our hotel. This is where Geoff, Martin Skidmore and Viv were staying.

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This was the Copthorne Hotel (now a Millennium Hotel) by George Square and then (and now) is a fine hotel .

Nigel and myself were staying here.

This is the Central Hotel which today is another fine hotel, but in 1990 it was rundown and falling apart. It was still a good hotel but it wasn’t the same sort of luxury, but Geoff had given a vague reason as to why Nigel and myself couldn’t stay at the Copthorne and anyhow, it wasn’t that far a walk (5-10 minutes depending on sobriety) from George Square. Anyhow, we were glad of a bed and once off our plane we headed right to the hotel to check in, get to out rooms, tart ourselves up, grab something to eat at the Central and head to the Copthorne for the evening’s merriment.

At the Copthorne we met up with Geoff, Martin and Viv who were all deeply embedded in the evening, though as Geoff was a teetotaler we could get a straight answer form him while Martin and Viv seemed to have enjoyed a small shandy or seven. Before I could hit the bar I was given the job of keeping John Wagner happy which I was only glad to do as I liked John and had known him for some years thanks to my association with AKA. Eventually in the wee small hours Nigel and myself left to go back to the Central to get some much needed sleep for what was to be a huge day the following day.

The convention itself was to be held in the City Chambers. An amazingly impressive building to hold a comic convention in.

Even more impressive was the interior.

Neptune/Trident/Apocalypse had a pitch on the top floor while the bulk of the dealers were on the lower floors and the talks, etc were scattered around the City Chambers and the Copthorne. Before getting to setting up I introduced Nigel to a full Scottish breakfast which gave us the energy to set things up, so we headed to AKA to help the lads there load up their stock and a load of Trident Comics we’d shipped to AKA that we’d sell at the con. When we got to the City Chambers we linked up with Geoff, Martin and Viv to set our pitch up. We’d got a corner so we set up a load of comics on one table and on another we were going to have signings from our creators over the weekend.

Once we set up it was a matter of sitting back and waiting for the crowds to come in and come in they did. The convention was utterly rammed with the City Chambers full of sweaty fanboys buying comics in the most opulent location I’ve ever been in for a comic convention in over 30 years. That Saturday also saw a Poll Tax demo outside in George Square which gave us an opportunity to sell loads of copies of the collected St. Swithin’s Day comic to protesters outside which was enormous fun.

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That first day was wildly successful.  We sold loads of Trident Comics, including selling out of St. Swithin’s Day while the interest in Toxic! was high. I’d also spent a large part of the Saturday afternoon taking the piss out of various people with John Wagner, wandering round the City Chambers chatting with people, chilling out for a while  at the bar in the Copthorne, and ending it with chatting with Poll Tax protesters to be told that there were rumours of a massive riot in Trafalgar Square at the Poll Tax demo there.

That evening was a blur, but I’d arranged a Sunday morning kickabout at Glasgow Green between Neptune and AKA (we used to regularly have Sunday morning football with the guys at AKA before I left Glasgow. You’ve not lived til you’ve seen John McShane fail to control a ball) so that didn’t stop serious drinking before heading back to the Central for a bit of sleep before meeting everyone back at the City Chambers the next morning.

The next day Nigel and myself turned up to meet Martin Skidmore who was all by himself in his football kit. i asked where Geoff and Viv were and he said he’d knocked on Geoff’s door but got a flustered reaction from Geoff as he gave Martin a story that he’d ‘slept in’ and didn’t fancy playing. Martin thought this was odd as Geoff loved football and had got us playing in a five-a-side league in Leicester, but he left in and knocked on Viv’s door but got no reply which is when Martin’s brain put 2+2 together thought ‘hang on, is Geoff fucking Viv?’ Telling me about it I initially said to Martin that Geoff was a tosser but he’d not sleep with a member of staff at essentially a business weekend hundreds of miles away from his wife and infant child? Would he?  I put it in the back of my head for the rest of the weekend

The last day was one of mopping things up. Meetings were had, things were decided and people started leaving for home, but I’d arranged to stay in Glasgow for a few more days before flying back to London and eventually Leicester. By the time I got back to work (after seeing a devastated central London) later the next week I didn’t think anything of Martin’s comments but a few weeks later it was announced that the other Martin who was one of the original three people setting Neptune up was going to leave in the summer. That came as a huge surprise that Martin was going to leave, and it was actually a bit worrying as it gave more control to Geoff.

I’d also heard that Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill were telling Geoff to put off publishing Toxic! in the spring of 1991 rather than the autumn as originally planned. Geoff was trying to push things on the publishing side far too fast, and although the distribution side was steady it wasn’t really growing. There was also gossip flying around the office and warehouse about Geoff’s extracurricular antics involving Viv who by now was attending ‘business meetings’ alone with Geoff.

By June/July things were cracking and in the next part I’ll go into the full gory details…..

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Four

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

British comics in the late 1980’s were a patchy affair. Comics like Warrior had spoiled fans while 2000AD was in one of it’s frequent lulls in quality it suffered in the late 80’s. The idea behind Trident Comics was to provide new talent to get published and for existing young talent like Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman to help us launch the line of comics which we did in 1989 with the first issue of Trident. an anthology title with a great John Ridgeway cover.

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Trident Comics’ editor was Martin Skidmore and to this day I have no idea how he managed to get people like Grant Morrison (who was in 1989 an established writer for American publishers like DC Comics) to work for next to nothing. We paid appallingly but nobody else was willing to publish work and not just distribute it in the UK, but thanks to our links with Diamond Distributors  in the US, across the direct market in America. I don’t think a lot of people know we used Dave Sim’s printers in Canada, and that Sim himself provided some help in helping get Trident off the ground. As to exactly what that was I honestly can’t remember and it may just have been getting us use of his printer but that enabled Trident to publish low cost comics and access the North American market.

We also were able to get Trident Comics into newsagents in the UK thanks to our links with Moore Harness (or General Book Distributors, GBD for sort) who distributed DC Comics into newsagents across the UK, as well as an astonishing array of porn mags. They were also based in Leicester and we dealt with Pete Stephenson, one of the great unsung heroes of comics in the UK. It was Pete who helped fight to get DC Comics into UK newsagents and if it wasn’t for him, a great number of people might not have picked up a copy of Justice League of America or The Flash and got themselves into American superhero comics. I know that people like Dez Skinn  have mentioned Pete but if anyone ever does a definitive history of British comics and its fandom, Pete needs a large mention.

So we were pretty well set up. Trident was going to have in it’s first issue not only a new Neil Gaiman strip, The Light Brigade, a new Eddie Campbell Bacchus story, but the outstanding entry in that first issue was Grant Morrison’s St Swithin’s Day drawn by Paul Grist. It also managed to get us an immense amount of publicity in the mainstream thanks mainly to these three panels.

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This helped create a small tabloid frenzy with Tory MP Teddy Taylor being apoplectic with rage that we published something with was ‘blasphemous’ against Margret Thatcher which reached a peak in a March 1990 issue of The Sun which splashed the story across a double page spread. We couldn’t buy that level of publicity so we ran with it to the extent when  the collected version came out a month later we used Teddy Taylor’s quotes in house adverts as well as a T-Shirt we sold at the first GLASCAC in 1990. More about that first GLASCAC to come as in retrospect, it was probably the start of the end of Geoff and of Neptune even though it was also the peak of the company’s achievements.

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We also had some controversy with Saviour, the first comic written by Mark Millar.

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Saviour drew attention not only because it had Jonathan Ross as the Antichrist (Ross apparently loved the idea) but because of the subject matter which stirred up a few moralist campaigners. Of course Mark Millar being young and up for a barney stirred things up and ensured he gained the maximum amount of publicity he could and we found from the off that Saviour was our best selling title by a mile. We even had to get a second print out which also sold out pretty quickly.

Our other launch title was Saga of the Man Elf, which is impressive only really for the involvement of Michael Moorcock, but even though it had vastly less of a print run than Trident and Saviour, it still sold out. Now I’m only talking about a few thousand selling out for Man Elf, nearly 6,000 for Trident and up to 10,000 for Saviour but these figures compared to most British independent comics were astonishing considering we barely spent money on promotion and we paid our creators appallingly. What the attraction of Trident Comics was though as complete freedom to do what you want and Martin Skidmore was very good in coaxing some fine work from people, not to mention he managed to do a great job plugging Trident through his wide social circle. The problem was that Neptune had issues with 2000AD.

Fleetway were at that point the publishers of 2000AD and they had a very cosy relationship with Titan which precluded Neptune getting the comic at the same time, so we’d get it a few days later which was useless to our customers who were competing with newsagents. We’d managed to get some sort of deal in getting it thanks to Neil and Geoff, but it was ultimately pointless, so the idea was hatched that Neptune would branch out and create a weekly comic that would become Toxic!. We’d already had a fairly good relationship with Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill through the production and marketing of the first Marshal Law t-shirt which was such a success in 1988.

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Sadly when Martin Skidmore heard Geoff’s idea for a weekly comic he was under the impression that he’d be involved, but in what was actually a smart move he ensured Martin stayed focused on Trident Comics by bringing in John McShane of AKA Books and Comics who would act as a sort of Stan Lee figure for not just Trident Comics, but the new weekly comic to be published by the new subsidiary Apocalypse Ltd. The reason this was smart was because it bonded AKA closer to Neptune, and it gave Geoff access to John’s friends who included most of the British comics scene, and especially people like John Wagner and Alan Grant. It was John Wagner who Geoff really, really wanted to get his hands on in order to lure him off 2000AD and Judge Dredd.

John had already done some work for DC Comics which included writing Batman in Detective Comics, but it was John and Alan Grant’s work for John McShane’s Fatman Press which caught Geoff’s eye and alerted him to some interesting possibilities. The Bogie Man was a four issue mini series drawn by Robin Smith designed to be released during Glasgow’s time as the European City of Culture but what Geoff saw was a disgruntled creator so words we said, and before we all knew it John and Geoff had managed to assemble John Wagner, Alan Grant, Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill as the creative core for this yet unnamed weekly comic. John Wagner had made it clear to Fleetway that as far as he was concerned he was off due to the lack of creators rights he was getting from the by now, immensely popular Judge Dredd. Fleetway relented to not only give Wagner a share, but gave him the Judge Dredd Megazine to do with as he wanted.

1989’s UKCAC in the September of that year was a triumphant one. Trident Comics were proving themselves. Neptune was drawing off business from Titan and grabbing new shops opening in the wake of the Batman boom and the announcement of a new weekly comic to rival 2000AD shook people up. Especially when Geoff made it clear he wanted it in full colour. 2000AD at that time was only partly in colour, and in fact there were no weekly comics published in full colour, nor indeed were there any monthly comics from Fleetway, though there was the bi-weekly Crisis, and  DC Thompson just didn’t do full colour. The idea of a full colour weekly was unthinkable and apparently something which would be hard to do. Fleetway had dabbled with the idea with Crisis but balked as the logistics were at that time, too much not to mention it’d end up being too expensive. Geoff wanted this comic to not just be weekly but under a pound which would be a incredibly tough thing to do, but the feeling was that it was doable. He was advised by Pat Mills and the others to get as much inventory as possible, plus let Kev ONeill get a year ahead in drawing Marshal Law which was to be the comic’s main draw.

I remember leaving that UKCAC in 1989 thinking we’d done things to seriously change the face of comics in the UK, and indeed, we were at the top of our game, which for the next six months we were. Going into 1990 was a huge case for optimism. Yes, there were still blow ups by Geoff, but things were calming down especially when Geoff announced his wife Sarah was pregnant which seemed to seriously chill him out. Neptune was also expanding as we employed two new people, Adam and Viv, to do sales and marketing, not to mention help me and John out in the warehouse. Gordon had a helper in the shape of Nigel who came on board to do design work for Trident and Apocalypse.

So why did it all go wrong? Well, in the next part I’ll explain but perhaps if Geoff hadn’t started fucking the female members of staff behind his wife’s back we’d all have stuck together….

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Three

Part One. Part Two.

In the spring of 1989 Neptune moved warehouses from a small cramped one in Enderby just outside Leicester (opposite the Conservative club where you’d often see the likes of Nigel Lawson leaving slime trails as he entered the building) to a much larger one in South Wigston in Leicester. This effectively was obviously because the distribution arm of the business was growing at a massive rate thanks to how we managed to get comics in quicker or at the same time as Titan, but it was also in preparation for Trident Comics. This meant Martin Skidmore actually had a desk as opposed to floating around, and we’d also gained a proper upstairs office for Geoff which meant we’d see less of him flying around in the warehouse. Also, Gordon had made the transition from warehouse lackey to helping Martin out with art direction and marketing for Trident, so we needed to recruit  new body so we ended up with John who’d previously worked at Final Frontier, the comic shop based in Leicester itself at the top of High Street which is now closed down.

John was, well, quite frankly socially inept as he’d joined a group of people who were either total pissheads or really didn’t care about Star Trek as much as John clearly did. He could however drive, so that took a bit of driving off Neil and Geoff though it did mean Gordon and myself would often be stuck in a transit van with a terminal geek who wouldn’t know a Harvey Kurtzman comic if it bit him on the arse. Yes, we were comic snobs. Deal with it!

Sadly not long after we moved we lost Neil as he’d had enough of Geoff’s insane bullying so he walked. I won’t go into any further detail as I hope Neil himself (it is after all his part of the story to tell and he can correct me/fill in the blanks my memories and 25 year old diaries are missing) will fill in the blanks in the comments but needless to say this left Geoff angry to the point where he was spitting with rage one time to an audience of myself, John, Martin and Gordon in the warehouse. After he’d finished spitting blood we all decided we were working for a loony, which of course we were but things were still fun and it was still a great job for all the shite we had to take. Thankfully things were busy so we still had routine of Monday to Wednesday prepping for the deliveries on Thursday and Friday. As we were taking on more new accounts and having existing customer like AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow, or Comic Showcase and Gosh! in London boosting their orders we’d often end up with weeks where we’d not finish on a Friday til late, which meant getting home to Leicester after pub closing time.

What had helped Neptune was the aggressive expansion policy of Titan’s Forbidden Planet chain which had already seen a shop open in Glasgow (as detailed in this lengthy blog of mine) and was seeing potential shops open in Manchester and Birmingham. We’d do as much as possible to help shops out with AKA getting the advantage of myself often coming up to Glasgow with boxes of stuff on trolleys a day before any other shop would get stock, while London shops would get deliveries on the same day. That meant insane races round London which then should have seen us being nicked and today would see us probably be locked up personally by Boris Johnson personally. In this respect Geoff’s insanity served the company well as it drove us on against the much larger Titan who were becoming increasingly fed up with us.

Geoff had seriously stirred things up the previous year by printing a full page editorial on the inside cover of Fantasy Advertiser #103 titled Conflict of Interest. Sadly I no longer have a copy so can’t show it (if anyone reading this can provide me with a scan please get in touch in the comments below) , but the jist was the editorial outlined Titan and Forbidden Planet’s relationship, and how having a distributor supply their own and independent shops would create a conflict of interest which it did as FP would often be given a priority over other shops. What really pissed off Titan, and especially Mike Lake, was the fact this editorial was in a magazine which was stocked by Forbidden Planet which from what I remember, caused one or twenty interesting conversations in various FP shops. Battle lines were drawn.

fantasyadvertiser103

1989 was an enormous year for Neptune, yet looking back it could have been bigger had Geoff allowed people to get on doing their jobs, which by now, we were all really good at our jobs. It felt at times like playing for a top football side but watching the manager try to play in all the positions at the same time while shouting at us for not helping him enough even though he was getting in the way. A flashpoint which clarified things was on an occasion where Tod was over from the US and we’d taken him out in Leicester for a few drinks. While were were out in The Globe, we’d bumped into Neil and had a jolly night drinking with him. Next morning I turned up for work and walked into a shouting match with Geoff, Sarah and Tod which then developed into a massive argument with everyone in the building as Geoff had decided that because he hated Neil that we shouldn’t have anything to do with him. This was fucking insane and we all made it clear that this was indeed, mental but there was no getting through to Geoff and the end of this prolonged argument was that the profit share (which saw everyone gain an extra few hundred quid at least) we were all part of was cancelled out of spite. This seriously fucked everyone off and we all made it clear individually or as a unit over the next few days Geoff was out of order, and several people were talking about leaving. Considering that by this point we’d built up a solid team this would have killed Neptune and Trident off so eventually Geoff (or more likely, Sarah had nagged Geoff) relented and even made a half-arsed apology to us for speaking to us like children. After then (this would be around the late winter/spring of 1989) things actually calmed down and amazingly, Geoff calmed down too as partly he was concentrating more on Trident but also I believe he started anger management classes. There’s a soap opera/sitcom in all this you know.

1989 as it progressed saw the year of the Tim Burton Batman film and this was insane for anyone involved in comics who had an ounce of business sense. Sticking a Batman logo on anything was a license to print money and that meant we all made loads of money in the run up to the film opening here in the UK in August of 1989.

batman1989

I’ve detailed elsewhere about how it was impossible for anyone to fuck this up, yet Titan did. On the day the film opened in the UK, Titan gave their warehouse lads the day off which meant we had a clear run in London to drop off comics that shops wouldn’t get from Titan til the Saturday, or in some cases, the Monday after the film opened. Considering the queues outside the cinema in Leicester Square we saw as we stopped by to take in the atmosphere, i’d say those Titan lads probably waited hours as well. This though was a defining moment as it was a bollock dropped and for many people showed how complacent Titan were so this led to more business coming our way. Now this didn’t mean we were hammering Titan to the ground but when we’re delivering comics as normal while your competitor takes the day off to see a film, albeit a Batman film, it does show a certain contempt and/or slackness.

I remember meeting up with the Neptune crowd on the Saturday in Leicester as we went to see the film telling them of the stories of the previous day, and all of this made Geoff drool with glee at what we were going to get on the Monday. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him happier, or acting like a normal person as I did that day and after that he took less of an active role in the distribution side as Trident Comics were ramping up plus he was by now throwing around the idea of producing a weekly comic to rival 2000AD. That comic was TOXIC! and in it’s small way changed the British comics scene completely.

toxic!1

In the next part of this history, I’ll go more into depth about Trident Comics, tell the full story of UKCAC 1989, the sordid secrets of GLASGAC in 1990 and tell the story of how one man’s hubris ended up pulling down the whole house of cards which in the process ended up setting up the monopolies which still dominates British comics distribution and retail today.

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part Two

In the first part of this potted history of Neptune Comic Distributors, I detailed roughly the history of Neptune from 1986 to 1988 but I neglected to mention the wedding of Geoff and Sarah. The reason being that it deserves a blog entry by itself rather than being lost in the bulk of another so here’s the story. Before diving in i’d go back and read the first part of this series of blogs otherwise you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

In spring of 1988 Geoff was going to marry Sarah in St. Helens which was fine and dandy as all of us workers assumed we weren’t going until we told that not only would he like us to come (we’re talking weeks of crawling here) but he’d pay for us and partners to come too. So he’d pay for hotels and gas if we provided the transport from Leicester. After a few chats with Gordon, Neil and myself we agreed to to go up as it’d bound to be a laugh at least and hey, it was in May and at least we’d get a weekend away out of it?!

Come the Saturday morning in May I was picked up on a rainy, miserable morning by Neil who’d crammed his girlfriend Amanda as well as Gordon and his partner, Sue, into a old Ford where the five of us were to sit tightly til we hit St. Helens. Todd was supposed to come from the US, but sadly failed to make it. The company secretary Carolyn, was coming up separately with her partner but we were all staying in this hotel which wasn’t actually in St. Helens, but some miles outside of the place. So we turned up at the hotel, checked in to our individual rooms, realised they all had mini-bars and some of us indulged in a few beers to mainly wash the memory of the awful trip up from Leicester. By the time we got to the church we were merry but not exactly drunk.

It was at the church we realised the scale of Geoff’s empty life. He had no friends and we’d been brought up to beef out his side of the church (there were a few friends and some family but compared to Sarah’s it was minuscule) as we positioned at the back as I think they’d sussed we were a wee bit jolly.We sat reasonably quietly through the ceremony and then headed back in the convoy to the hotel where we gathered in Neil’s rooms to hammer the mini-bars not to mention start cutting up lines of speed off the room’s mirror that Gordon had ripped off the wall. We then descended upon the reception managing to hold it together for the meal though Neil had hassled the hotel to get some Jack Daniels as Geoff was paying we thought we’d take advantage of this. They thankfully sent some poor sod on a bike into the nearest village to get this bottle and it promptly was plonked on our table.

At this point I lose the plot a bit. Well in fact, I lose consciousness. I know this as there’s pictures of my head in a pool of Jack Daniels with Amanda and Carolyn trying to see if I’m still breathing. Meanwhile something snapped in Gordon and he was dancing with Sarah’s parents on the dancefloor with his shirt hanging off and his girlfriend Sue trying to work out whether to join in or run away.  I awoke, went to the loo and threw up for around ten minutes while wrecking the toilet. I felt more alive so I returned to the reception to find Gordon now throwing himself around like a dancing loon, while Neil was virtually comatose as Jack Daniels had replaced his blood. I managed to get back on the beer to join in the what was now, sheer carnage which I don’t think the happy couple would forget in a hurry. However the night was not yet over! Gordon had gone off on one because he thought someone was hitting on Sue so I tried to find him in this labyrinth of a hotel but he was lost somewhere, and Neil and Amanda had left the party as they were by now, unfit for anything. By the time I got back to my room I found Sue outside telling me that Gordon was back in the room but had made a total mess in it which I interpreted that he’s made a mess in the bed itself so she shared my room (there was a spare bed as Todd was supposed to share with me) and we polished off the mini-bar till the wee hours.

Next morning was hell. The hangovers were Olympic sized and the idea of a long, long drive back to Leicester was making us all sick. We’d managed to piece together the bits and bobs of the previous night and checked out, though as we were checking out we were asked if we’d drunk anything from the mini-bar (we lied) and if we knew anything about the wrecked toilet, the sick and a broken door which we later found out was something Gordon did when he was in a rage. Of course we lied.

As we got in the car the last thing we needed was to spend a few hours crammed into Neil’s old Ford. Thankfully Amanda decided the best thing to do was stick the radio on to cheer us all up on a horrible rainy hungover morning in the North West of England. this is the song which came on…

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry we set off for the long, painful trip home, not to mention we’d have a week free of Geoff’s nuttiness as he and Sarah were on their honeymoon. Though on his return we found out about the wedding video which featured the wedding itself, some of the reception speeches and lots and lots of shots of us being drunk/speeding our tits off. There was a lot of Gordon dancing like a loon which seemed to amuse Geoff in that sad way people do when they cling onto the one thing that makes him interesting to people.

This wasn’t the only time we were used to fill out Geoff’s friends. We helped him move house in Leicester which we managed to do in half the time he expected so he gave us the rest of the day off which meant we went round to Neil’s flat, drank tins of Super T (it was all the shop had, honest) til the local opened and then very drunkenly tried to play pool and chat up girls. I’ll be frank, how my liver survives is a constant mystery.

Now the point of this story isn’t just to tell a couple of fairly amusing stories from the past, but it’s to show Geoff in a certain light. This was a man with few friends who worshiped Thatcherism and was so highly competitive it verged on sociopathy with a nice side order in psychopathic behavior. I fully believe that at times, Neil, Gordon, myself and everyone working for Neptune (and some of the creators of the comics) were at some point the victim of serious abuse. Yes, a lot of the time things were amazingly fun and it was cool a lot of the time but the darker side of things makes it difficult to tell this story without detailing just who Geoff was and to put it all in the context. What I’m describing is your basic bullying culture but it gets worse as I’ll describe later on, so remember that although Neptune did change things it was off the back of someone amazingly driven, but who did so by emotionally battering people.

In the next part I’ll pick up the story on the verge of the move from the Enderby warehouse to the new one in South Wigston and detail the messy birth of Trident Comics.

The Rise and Fall of Neptune Comic Distributors: Part One

Comics as a medium are currently more popular than at any point in my life, and getting your weekly fix of superhero comics is so easy, so if you live in the UK you get them the day after they’ve shipped in the US. If you buy them digitally from a site like Comixology you can get them on the same day as publication in the US. In 2014 there is nothing stopping you from getting your comics within 24 hours of publication in the US.

In the 1980’s this wasn’t the case and although I’ve covered this ground before, it’s worth going over again briefly to recount the struggles comics fans had to get comics in the 70’s and 80’s. I’ve outlined just how annoying it was to get your favourite comic before in detail, but the situation is by the establishment of the direct market. The establishment of the direct market is a long history and this series of articles at The Comics Journal gives a great history of it’s establishment and history, but it’s obviously a US focused series of articles.

In the UK, the establishment of the direct market saw a number of shops ship their own comics in from the US, but eventually a single distributor appeared which was Titan Distributors who supplied most of the comic shops/ SF Bookshops across the UK. At that point those would be notable shops like Forever People in Bristol, Odyssey in Manchester, Timeslip in Newcastle, Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham and the SF Bookshop in Edinburgh.

sfbookshop

There was also Moore Harness who distributed comics, mainly DC Comics, to newsagents across the country while Marvel’s comics were distributed by Comag and didn’t feature the range of DC Comics, which had a fuller range distributed in newsagents but still had gaps. There was also the fact you had to wait months. Three at least as these were shipped to the UK as seafrieght while the comics Titan shipped were flown across by air, though they tended not to hit the UK til over a week later after publication in the US. In those pre-internet days there were no spoilers, but although shops were doing alright there was problems with Titan’s distribution. Titan however was the only game in town until Neptune came along.

The reason why anyone reading this get their comics on a Thursday is because of Neptune. They created a ripple effect and showed there was a demand for getting comics across to the UK as quickly as possible, so when you pick up a copy of Batman 24 hours after it’s been printed, give a wee thanks to those of us involved in the distribution field in the 80’s. I accept cheques and Paypal…..

So the situation by the mid 1980’s was that shops had a few sources to get their comics; Titan, Moore Harness and off their own back by creating relationships with one of the dozens of distributors in the US though that was risky, and anyhow because of how Titan’s discounts worked, you’d be best throwing your money with them even if at times their services was, well, shite. Comics would miss issues, or ship so stupidly late, or you’d only get a few issues of titles, or a shop in one city would get one fairly hot title and another nearby wouldn’t because they were on better terms with Titan’s owners. It was frankly, a mess and at the time I was firmly entrenched with AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow and I can say that from experience that Titan were ok, but like any company running a monopoly (which effectively they did in the direct market in the UK) they were complacent. There was also a huge gap in the market and some tried to take Titan on but the problem was they were mainly fans with no idea how to run a business and it needed a businessman who was a bit of an utter bastard to to take Titan on. That utter bastard was a student at Leicester Polytechnic called Geoff Fry.

Geoff lived at 67 Barclay Street in Leicester with his girlfriend Sarah and their friend Martin. Geoff was a comics fan, and a keen admirer of Margaret Thatcher. The others had no interest in comics at all but they were keen on Geoff’s vision of setting up a distribution company to rival Titan, and of course, to make shitloads of money. They started on a small scale in 1985 and I still remember their cold call to AKA pitching their business as I was the one who took the call. Of course calling your company Neptune is a clear sign that you want to take Titan on. and for Geoff he saw Mike Lake and Nick Landau (owners of Titan and as it was then, the Forbidden Planet shop in London) as people he wanted to take on personally even though he’d never met them. He still saw this as a personal fight against them.

AKA were one of Geoff’s first big customers after winning us over by getting John Byrne’s Man of Steel, a Superman mini-series which redefined the character to AKA before the Titan shipment.

steel

Getting these copies on a Tuesday as opposed to a Thursday, or even a Friday or Saturday morning changed things. It meant that AKA could pull the rug out of any other shop by doing something they weren’t and giving fans a chance to buy these comics first.  See, comic fans are not known for their patience, so Neptune gave AKA an advantage over shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh which meant customers were more likely to buy their comics from AKA, and the more Neptune did this the more business they were given. This was repeated across the UK and as Neptune grew the business could no longer be run from a terraced house in Leicester by three students and they moved up a gear, by getting warehouse premises in Enderby,just outside of Leicester, and recruiting staff such as Neil, a lad who’d worked in a comic shop in Leicester by the Polytechnic that Geoff went to.

On moving to Enderby, Geoff was able to expand his ambitions. He wanted more business and I know from when I was still at AKA that he was pushing hard for more business but we weren’t daft, and still had a good part of our comics coming from Titan, not to mention the seafrieght comics from Moore Harness. For much of 1986 and 1987 Neptune were gaining shops across the country and eating  into Titan’s monopoly. The big change for myself came at the UKCAC of that year.when I met the Neptune lot who were at attendance punting for business, not to mention trying to piss off Mike Lake.  A few months later I was speaking to Geoff on the phone and was offered a job at Neptune which started in January 1988.

At this point Neptune were not at their peak. They were still in a fairly small warehouse in Enderby which saw everyone tripping over each other at times, and everyone worked their arses off. I addition to Neil and myself, there was Gordon, a serious Harvey Kurtzman fan, and we made up the warehouse team in Leicester, with Geoff and Martin helping. In the office, Sarah was helped by Carolyn so it was a small team punching probably way above our weight. Also at this point I have to point out that frankly, Geoff was a bit mental. I think by the end of my first week I’d seen him have a stand up argument with Neil and then with Sarah and then with Gordon. I was used to the odd argument at work  but this was something else. Geoff to put it mildly, had anger management issues. This aside though he was someone who could run a business but he was very, very lucky in assembling a team around him who were also young and hungry, not to mention weren’t suffering from the complacency Titan suffered with. We all wanted Neptune to work as well as we all wanted to give Titan a bit of a kicking because we were hip young gunslingers in the world of comics distribution.

After a while I settled into a routine. Monday was the day we’d ship out all the minor accounts across the UK and tidy up the delivery from the previous week. Tuesday we’d start getting information from Tod (our man in New York who formerly worked for Bud Plant) by the miracle of fax about what was going to ship on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was a day of preparation so we’d write up pull lists for our accounts and on Thursday we’d ship ourselves down to Staines to pick up the Sparta shipment from the US. these were the general newstand comics sold in the US also sold to the direct market. Friday was the day we’d get the Ronalds shipment from Canada via the Us and these were the direct market comics from mainly DC Comics, but we’d have Marvel and other publishers there too. Thursday and Friday meant leaving Leicester normally quite early in order to get down to Staines, or direct to Heathrow to pick up the shipment, break it down, and then get it out in London thanks to Martin bombing round London in the van, and across the UK to those shops who wanted a Friday/Saturday delivery via ANC. Then we’d truck back up to Leicester via the M25 and M1 and hopefully get back in time for last orders before heading off to The Fan Club or if you were feeling more rocky, Sector 5 which used to be next door. Saturday would see hangovers and afternoons shopping or drinking in The Globe. Sunday would be spent in the late, lamented Pump and Tap pub and then an early night for the week ahead.

pumpandtap

This is of course, if everything went smoothly. Often we’d be in London at 8 in the morning, or still pulling comics in Staines on a Friday at 6 in the evening and we’d always be stuck in traffic jams getting back from Staines to the point we’d take a short cut through Oxfordshire so we’d avoid the M25. All this work did mean we were creeping up on Titan which was reducing their market share, which in 1988 in a comics scene far, far smaller than today, meant money was being lost from them to us.

Sadly we’d fuck up but a lot of the time it was down to Geoff’s impatience or his arrogance. A classic example is the Batman story A Death in the Family and this issue in particular.

Batman427

This was a massive issue as it featured the point in a story where readers could call a number in the US and decide whether Robin lived or died. It was getting mainstream media coverage and shops were frantic to get their copies, but the shipment came in late, not to mention we got reduced numbers as the shipment was split so Geoff fiddled with numbers to split it across shops in London which was the priority. Unfortunately things were fucked up because Geoff decided to pull comics in a moving van and poor Gordon was the sod stuck with having to put comics into boxes. We did warn that things would fuck up and lo and behold, the next day saw Geoff raging at us when in fact, he bore serious responsibility for it all.We got earache, and I remember leaving work that day serious miserable. Next day though Geoff was all friendly and nice which obviously was because Sarah had a word so he tried to be nice which if I remember meant paying for our lunches at the pub near the warehouse in Enderby while trying to avoid being punched by one of us.

This aside though we were incredibly good at not only getting new business, but expanding existing customers. For example, one time we (Geoff, Todd and myself) were to see John McShane and Pete Root at AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow to discuss the whole business with Forbidden Planet opening in Glasgow and the potential for a closer relationship between Neptune and AKA, not to mention more business. Now most sane people would either go up for a few days or even though internal short haul flights were normally expensive in 1987, it was worth flying up for what was going to be a hopefully successful meeting. Nope, we drove from Leicester to Glasgow and back in a day with a few hours of a meeting crammed in a middle, plus a pub lunch at Blackfriars, a pub I always made fine use of when I lived in Glasgow.

blackfriars

 

It did end up being a great meeting which ended up being mutually successful but we were frankly making all this up as we went along.  This became clear when Geoff decided to inform us about his plan to start publishing comics, which frankly did excite the hell out of all of us. He’d already bought Fantasy Advertiser by hiring then custodian of the magazine, Martin Skidmore, a Bristolian who was very well known on the British comics scene and is sadly no longer with us. What we did do was to make Fantasy Advertiser look more professional by throwing a few more quid than Martin had at it, but really what Geoff wanted was Martin’s contacts which is why he was made editor of the Trident Comics line.

fa99

It has to be said that even though Geoff was an arch Tory and Trident was motivated mainly by trying to get one on Titan who’d never delved into making original comics, there was a large element of trying to make very good comics using new and existing talent. We managed to get people like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell, John Ridgeway and even Michael Moorcock on board as well as new talent like Paul Grist, Nigel Kitching, Dominic Regan and Mark Millar. It was an impressive line-up for a small company operating out of a tiny warehouse just outside Leicester and this company was paying these people pennies, but the deal was they could do whatever they wanted.

The problem was the warehouse in Enderby was too small, so in 1989 we moved from Enderby to South Wigston and into a much, much larger warehouse. The business was booming and plans were to expand across the UK with a Manchester warehouse opening as well (to be run by me! Jings!) plus Trident to get off the ground, things were busy and that meant Geoff had to delegate. The business was about to hit it’s peak and in its own way change the face of British comics, not to mention distribution forever.

In the next part of this blog I’ll detail the story of the move, how staff came and went, the tales of various UKCAC’s and GLASCAC’s, the rise of Trident Comics, the birth of Toxic!, and the beginning of the end.

And I’ll also tell the full gory story of Geoff’s wedding…..

A (hopefully) final word about Joshua Bonehill and the Daily Bale

I’ve been involved in this story about Joshua Bonehill since August when he attacked the Globe pub in Leicester, and this resulted in him being found guilty of malicious communication last month.Yesterday he was sentenced.

 

Maynard Griffin, chairman of the bench, ordered Bonehill-Paine to complete 180 hours unpaid work, a two-year community order and costs of £145.

That’s right, Bonehill has to pay for his attack on the Globe this way, though the court did say:

Upon sentencing he told the defendant: “It will not hurt to say that another repetition of this type of behaviour could leave another court with little option but to deal with you differently

 

Considering Bonehill’s online behaviour this is probably going to be sooner rather than later, however the reason why Bonehill isn’t currently sitting in prison (as many including myself feel he should be) is this.

Accompanied by his mother to court, magistrates were told how widespread “provocation” over a long period of time from a number of individuals had led to Mr Bonehill-Paine’s actions.

Michaela Rose, defending, said the defendant accepted the information behind the article was wrong and he had made a “huge error” in sharing the information without checking its truthfulness or validity.

She claimed in the lead-up to the inaccurate article, Mr Bonehill-Paine had been subjected to “disturbing” messages from individuals who had taken a dislike to him – and the defendant believed the Globe pub landlord was part of this internet attack on him.

Miss Rose said: “Mr Bonehill-Paine was completely at fault for what he did and accepts it was inappropriate.

“He responded to some quite extreme provocation by a number of individuals now known to the police. It’s fair to say he was put under a lot of pressure and was encouraged to engage in these ‘tit for tat’ exchanges.

“The hatred shown towards him became quite extreme to the point his address was publicised in a public forum, forcing him to make police complaints and having things put through his letterbox.

“Mr Bonehill-Paine felt the only outlet to express himself and respond to the allegations about him was on social media.”

Magistrates were told that a Facebook page was set up against the defendant entitled “Bail Out – Send This Sick Psycho to Jail” where he was threatened, goaded and jokes were made about what may happen to him in jail.

 

So there you go. Someone who abused, libeled and attacked people, businesses, not to mention used the murder of Lee Rigby to make himself a local celebrity while seemingly scamming charities has got his wrists mildly slapped because some in the anti-fascist movement played the same tactics against him. Well done guys, I hope you’re all proud. You’ve given him the excuse to get away with it as prison might just have shown him he can’t get away with what he’s done, but now he can voice vaguely false platitudes while yet again pushing his usual bullshit.

“It has been a victory for me personally in the sense that those who have so wrongly agitated me over these past few months have not gotten what they want, that being my imprisonment.

“I will take lessons away from this whole thing and now work to better myself and move forward.

“During my time while standing in the dock, I had a Union Jack Flag in my pocket, a Union Jack tie on my chest and a flame in my heart that burns for patriotism and a love for this country.

“I am sure that through divine belief and my confidence in this trial, I was not imprisoned for that reason.”

 

I stopped blogging about Bonehill because I realised I was giving him exactly what he wanted which was to feed whatever psychosis he’s suffering from. He’s used the attacks on him on social media as a defence which is frankly, fucked, but it’s clear looking at some of the responses towards Bonehill that they’re almost as bad as some of the shite Bonehill has come up with.

I hope this makes Bonehill think about all the dozens of people he’s hurt. The lives he’s upset and the damage he’s done. I hope his words are genuine and I hope he takes this opportunity to try to repair his life so this doesn’t hang around his neck to heavily for the rest of his life. I’d like to be that optimistic but I don’t see it happening. If he’d any sense he’d stop using Lee Rigby’s murder as a propaganda tool for right wing fascism and racism (something Rigby’s mother strongly objects to people doing) not to mention using the Daily Bale as some sort of mouthpiece for his frothing insanity. If not then he may carry on campaigning for UKIP, but seeing as the EDL have told him where to go I’d imagine he’ll carve himself the niche he seems to want by creating some movement designed to annoy anti-fascist campaigners which will carry on feeding this lad’s insanity.

So I’m going to stop talking about him. People are fee to use any of the blogs I’ve written about Bonehill or the Daily Bale to discuss this but unless there’s anything worth talking about I’m hoping Bonehill does fall off the internet, sorts himself out and gets his life together. I’m hoping protesters move from him and focus on the genuine threats like UKIP and the various fascist/racists infesting the internet.

I hope it’s all over and people move on. I’m hoping I never feel the need to talk about this again.

My Top 20 Horror Films-8-The Blair Witch Project

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man and 9, Halloween.

We now go for a wander in the woods in The Blair Witch Project.

Image

 

It’s a simple plot which has now become far too familiar as the Found Footage genre became overused but in 1999, it was still fairly new.

Three film students go missing after traveling into the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about the local Blair Witch legend leaving only their footage behind.

 

The film starts with an opening text telling us about the three student documentary makers going missing before launching us right into their lives before going to film their documentary about the Blair Witch.  Not a lot happens for this early part of the film, but in fact this is the most important part of the film as it’s during the interviews with the people of Blair and the telling of it’s history that we as the audience get told what exactly is going to happen to our three protagonists. These scenes need to be watched closely as it’s all about mood, and also, because most of the people are acting naturally they present a convincing tale so by the time our filmmakers are hopelessly lost in the woods being stalked by something, we’re unsure and thrown off balance by the events on screen.

At the end we get what I think is such a simply terrifying shot that was set up in the film’s opening ten minutes or so.

Assuming we’ve been paying attention then we should be sitting in a cooling pool of piss by now. If you’ve not been paying attention then you’ll find all of this boring, and frankly, that makes you worse than Hitler.

The Blair Witch Project is a spectacular horror film even though it’s made for around a fiver and some orange peel because it does everything right, while remembering that without any money the best thing you can do is get the audiences imagination working overtime. This creates a genuinely unsettling experience as the mounting doom of our three main characters looms closer and closer we don’t know how they’ll meet their fate, but as said, we actually do. It also helps if you’ve seen The Curse of the Blair Witch, the mockumentary which was shown on TV just before the cinema release of the film. That gives a lot of background only hinted at in The Blair Witch Project, plus it’s an effectively creepy little film in it’s own right that deserves it’s place with the best of it’s genre.

I adore The Blair Witch Project. I first saw it at a late night showing at a cinema in Leicester when I was living there, and to this day the reaction of that audience sticks in my memory because it was amazing. Having a few hundred people breathe in deeply at the same point as the remaining two characters explore a derelict house is an amazing feeling.

Also, this was the first film to really, seriously use the internet to market itself properly, as well as use the online campaign as part of the film itself.  You can see the legacy of the Blair Witch in virtually  every marketing campaign for every film released today, and that’s not bad for a film that cost just over 20 grand.

However it’d be remiss of me at this stage to not point out The Last Broadcast and the huge similarities between that and The Blair Witch Project.

lastbroadcast

 

I won’t give too much away about The Last Broadcast but I will say that everyone has one good film in them then this is that film for the people who made this. It’s a bloody brilliant piece of horror that is probably the first film of any sort to effectively use the internet within the plot without it seeming awful. Considering The Last Broadcast was made a full year at least before production on Blair Witch started I’ll leave it to you to decide who copied who, but both films owe a lot to Cannibal Holocaust, not to mention there’s a wee bit of Ghostwatch in both films.

At the end of the day I don’t care. Both films are wonderful. Both films should be enjoyed. Watch them both.

Next time, I have such sights to show you!

 

The Daily Bale’s Campaign of Fascist Insanity

I’ve already blogged about the Daily Bale’s attack on the Globe in Leicester, and how they’ve continued their libel even though they’ve been made aware the police are investigating them.

The problem is they’re continuing putting out the usual mix of lies and old stories to whip up hate that a lot of neo-Nazi sites do, but what is unusual is how The Daily Bale is taking shots at UKIP by repeating a story from earlier this year.

A UKIP candidate is facing calls to resign after claiming the solution to crime in Britain is sharia law and thieves should have their hands cut off.

Self-employed builder and UKIP activist Dean Perks, prospective candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, shocked supporters at a rally when he suggested the brutal punishment as a legitimate way to tackle crime.
Mr Perks is due to stand for the party at the next general election but leader Nigel Farage is now facing a barrage of calls to get rid of him.

Bonehill clearly holds a grudge against UKIP, assuming it wasn’t his crony Alex Wood, but the point of this is that after their attack on the Globe they’ve made it very, very, very clear what the blog is and what they’re trying to do.

They’re not being ”satirical”. They’re not challenging ”PC” attitudes. They’re fascists and racists. Anyone suggesting otherwise is either being stupidly obtuse or are cheerleaders for Bonehill and his blog.