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.

trident

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.

stswithinsday1

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.

stswithinsday

 

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.

marshallawfa

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….

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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…..

Last Alan Moore Interview?

This is probably the Last Alan Moore Interview we’ll read about comics. To say that it’s somewhat controversial since it was published last night is an understatement,

I’m going to go over a few things in this interview because they cross over with a few things I’ve hinted at in previous blogs but til then this is essential reading.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid AKA Slovobooks

A few words of explanation about this interview: On the 26th of November 2013 there was an event called An Evening with Alan Moore, where Moore was in conversation with biographer Lance Parkin, whose biography of Moore, Magic Words, had just been published by Aurum Press. The evening also included two short films, Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End, both part of a larger cycle of works, as well as some of Moore’s collaborators taking the stage, and a Q&A session with the audience. The evening seemed to be a great success – at least, I was there, and it seemed so to me, and to anyone else I talked to – but one of the attendees was not happy, and took to Twitter to say so. He Tweeted ‘Really wish An Evening with Alan Moore hadn’t involved four white people on stage defending…

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Remembering Pete Root

To say that Pete Root was a simply massive part of my youth is an understatement. It’d be like saying ‘my lungs were a massive part of my upbringing’ because quite frankly, Pete was that important, though I never really knew that at the time. Pete Root was a constant figure in the comics scene in Glasgow from the 70’s to the 2000’s, when he sadly passed away in the June of 2007. He shaped not just mine, but dozens of other people’s lives.

Pete was an old Glasgow hippy. He worked for British Rail so traveled round the country which enabled him not only to pick up comics from cities across the UK, but he’d see bands play in their pomp. I especially remember him telling me about attending the Rolling Stones free Hyde Park in 1969, even though at that time (this would be around 1985 or so) I couldn’t really give a toss about 60’s music. Pete was a traveled, intelligent man who like a lot of working class Scots, didn’t immediately look like such a person, but he was.

I first knew of Pete as someone who sold comics in an arcade in Glasgow, so he was part of the circuit I found as a kid of people who’d sell me comics. I didn’t know he was part of a group of comics fans in Glasgow who were trying to bring together a group like a group of science fiction fans in Glasgow had done with the Friends of Kilgore Trout which ended up organising SF conventions for years in the city. One of my brothers was part of this group, so told me that a group of comic fans were trying to get something going but nothing came to pass until the first Glasgow comic marts popped up in the early 1980’s, and it’s at one of these that I first met Pete as he sold me a copy of Warrior #1.

Warrior#1

 

This would be around April or so of 1982, so I’d be around 15, still at school and finding my own way out in the world. I do remember that mart as being in retrospect a sad wee affair with a few dealers trying to sell ratty copies of comics at stupid prices, but at the time it was a glorious thing. Glasgow had it’s own mini-convention to rival those in England that I’d read about in fanzines, but the importance of that first mart is that it brought people together and informed us all that there were more people in the city like us.

The marts in Glasgow became a regular thing, so I would go with what spare money I could get to spend it, normally at Pete’s table as he sold the cheapest comics, but I started seeing what would become familiar faces, and eventually started seeing them in Glasgow’s comic shops in the early 1980’s. I’ve outlined before a brief personal history of Glasgow’s comic shops, so I won’t bore you again with them but I will say that this was an essential time in my life. I’d love to go back to it in many ways but without all the nonsense elsewhere in my life then I had to put up with. Anyhow, eventually I got to know Pete well through AKA Books and Comics, a comic shop owned and run by Pete, with his business partner, John McShane, another influential figure in my life who’ll I’ll speak about in depth another time.

It’s during the years I hung around and worked at AKA that Pete shaped me in a lot of ways. I picked up his healthy cynicism, which has become an essential survival tool, especially in the last few years when things have been quite tough. That cynical attitude has kept me sane. Pete gave me that.

He also showed me that comics were able to be enjoyed by anyone, OK, John showed me comics was an artform (again, more of this another time) but Pete made sure they were something to be loved, and bloody hell, Pete Root loved comics as much as his wife Doreen, or his beloved Morton.

He also eased me into the joys of going to the pub to talk bollocks with mates. Now Pete wasn’t the only person to lure me into a lifetime of hanging around pubs, but sitting there talking about things with Pete as he supped a lager and lime was one of those joys of my teenage years I’d do anything to live again.

Pete wasn’t a replacement father or anything so Eastenders as that, but he was someone who was a father-like figure at a time when I was lacking guidance from elsewhere.  When I got the offer to move to Leicester to work for Neptune Comics Distributors, which meant leaving Glasgow, and everyone in it, far behind me it was Pete who gave me the advice to do it. He’s the one who was honest enough to point out the truth I was sitting on my arse waiting for something to fall into my lap, so when I got the Neptune opportunity I’d be fucking daft not to take it. So I did. Without that wee bit of brutal honesty (and Pete could be brutally honest) I’d have probably hung around missing chance after chance. When I moved to Leicester, I initially went home a lot, as many people do in their early 20’s when they move away from home for the first time. Although my relationship with Pete was now mainly that of supplier to his customer, it was more than that, and as it was with Neptune’s relationship with AKA (and several other shops) generally. As I’ve said elsewhere, those days in Glasgow were a Golden Age, especially as AKA was such a creative hub, and of course, I should mention Pete’s cameo in the pages of the splendid Bogie Man #1.

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When the whole mess regarding Forbidden Planet opening happened, it hurt Pete, but I’ve documented the situation before, but it was sad to go home to see Pete angry and hurt over what happened, though he did eventually open up his back issue shop in FP Glasgow after AKA finally closed.

During the 90’s I went home less often. I’d return to do the odd mart or convention with the lads I’d gotten to know in Bristol. We’d still do business and I’d love it as I caught the odd beer and a chat with Pete before having to dash back down south to whatever I was doing at that time.

In 2002 I went home with my then girlfriend, Nat, for Hogmanay. This was the last time I saw Pete. I think the last thing I said was something about Morton and that I’d get in touch about getting him some comics up from Bristol, or that maybe I’d do a mart/con in Glasgow in 2003 but that never happened as 2003 ended up being a simply insane year, and for a while my only contact with Glasgow was with Andy Sweeney, one of the old AKA who occasionally dropped me the odd text or whenever I saw Gary Erskine at a con in London or Bristol. Then there was the time John McShane came to Bristol for a convention  and drank it dry as we talked beautiful bollocks in the heat of a perfect spring night but there’s another story……..

I late 2006 or early 2007, Andy dropped me a text that Pete was ill. Very ill. I started getting back in touch with others from Glasgow who also kept me informed and I always meant to get myself back home to Glasgow for a visit, but my life here in Bristol was busy with work, crumbling relationships and getting that year’s Glastonbury planned out. While I was away at Glastonbury, Pete died. I didn’t make his funeral and I bloody well should have.

His funeral was a busy affair from all the accounts I’ve heard as Pete was a popular man in the city. He left us too early though, but Pete never got the credit outside of Glasgow or Scotland for what he did for comics. He never got the credit for helping kids get into comics, or help creators get off their arses or people like me from moping around and on their feet. Pete was a remarkable individual of the like you rarely get these days in today’s nihilistic & hedonistic times. Pete cared for others, often at the cost to himself. He should be enshrined as a legendary figure in British comics, not that he’d like that of course but I’m going to consider him so anyhow as it’s the least I can do.

Pete Root was an inspiring figure to me, many of my friends and many of the people he encountered in his life. For that we should remember him. Rest in peace Pete.

When I Look at You, You’re Forgiven

There’s some people who manage to sail through life avoiding the raindrops of pain and horror but when you see them all you want to do is introduce them to the concept of hospital food fed to them via a drip. Most of these people tend to be M.P’s, employers, Piers Morgan.

Especially Piers Morgan. Look at his face!

Jesus, it was made for random acts of violence…

Some other people you just want to scream at. Loudly. You just want to shout at them until your teeth explode. These people tend to be workmates you like (as opposed to the ones you’d happily see turned into glue) but are an arsehole sometimes, or mates down the pub, or more commonly partners.

I’ve had several girlfriends who I utterly adored, and in some cases still do long after the fact. However one look at them and I’d forgive them for after all, I was probably an arsehole, or we didn’t actually speak properly to each other or some stupid breakdown of communication happened to be topped off probably by me doing something extraordinarily stupid. Even if they’d done something daft I couldn’t stay angry, as one look at them would remind me that I was a jammy bastard and that I should let it go as 99% of the time there wasn’t a problem.

The sort of screaming and shouting (not that I was one for screaming and shouting, much) people do at each other is not what relationships are about, neither is wanting to commit violence upon each other. Committing violence upon people should be reserved for Piers Morgan, I mean, have to seen his bis puffy smug face? Just look up at tit? Won’t you feel better feeling your fist bounce off it?

Perhaps Piers could rent his face out for people to relieve stress by pummeling the hell out of it?

Anyhow, all this rambling is to slowly introduce a few more blogs further down the line where I want to speak about people who’ve been important in my life which will include ex-girlfriends among other people.  The first such blog though will be important to anyone from Glasgow and familiar with AKA Books and Comics. It’s going to take a wee while longer to come out as it’s proving to be more painful to write than I expected, and I expected it to hurt like hell, but it’ll get there.

Til then just imagine smacking Piers Morgan in the big doughy face!