Memoirs Of An Occasional Superheroine

I’m busy with a lot of stuff at the minute, and I really, really will get a blog out about last weekend’s Bristol Comics Expo out in the next few days, plus there’s another Glastonbury blog (I’m up to the year 2005) waiting to be finished.

I have however been distracted by work, the horrors of real life and reading Valerie D’Orazio’s extraordinary book about her life and her time working at DC Comics.Memoirs Of An Occasional Superheroine is a painfully honest, painful and amazing read. It’s often hard to read as she recounts her abuse from her father and at school, but it’s when she delves into the world of comics that it hits it’s stride.

It’s a highly recommended read for anyone interested in comics, not to mention how women are seen in the mainstream superhero circle which dominates American comics. The book is available for free download at D’Orazio’s site here and I suggest taking an evening out to read this book as it’s wonderful.

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Best. Glastonbury. Ever. A brief word about Glastonbury 2013

This isn’t a full post about this year’s Glastonbury on the scale of my previous posts, but just a quick word while I recover from what was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long, long time.

This year’s festival worked as it should. Yes the flaws and increasing gentrification of the event were there and obvious, but the positives of the festival were overwhelming as this year’s festival showed just how good the festival can be, and how now the organisers are free from their partnership with Festival Republic they can move the festival back to how they want it to go. Yes, there were gaps in the organisation and infrastructure but the CND logo returned to the Pyramid stage, and the festival felt more like the pre-2000 festivals which was really quite a good thing indeed.

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Today though is about a rest, not to mention get rid of the cold I picked up. A longer post about this year’s festival is coming but it’s a damn pity this year’s festival had to end as it really was wonderful…

51 weeks til Glastonbury 2014………….

Ray Harryhausen Is no longer with us….

I was going to do something else tonight but finishing a crap day at work and coming home to find out that Ray Harryhausen has died is an utter bloody tragedy.

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I first encountered Harryhausen’s work when being taken to a Saturday morning double bill at the Odeon in Renfield Street in Glasgow when I was about six or seven. I have no idea what the first film was but the second was Jason and the Argonauts and it’s to this day a film I can’t get tired of watching.

This isn’t to say I didn’t know who Harryhausen was. I knew his name and what he’d done thanks to picking up American film magazines like Famous Monsters on my hunt round Glasgow for comics.I’d just not see anything he did but as soon as I did, I lapped up everything he did thanks to Saturday morning double bills and the BBC having a series of Harryhausen films when I was about 8. I quickly grew to love it all, and even as I got older I still loved it because it was a joy to watch the craft and love that went into his work.

During the 80’s Harryhausen fell out of style as stop motion was being replaced by various techniques, and eventually CGI replaced the need for stop motion. The problem was, and is, that CGI is just watching code entered by dozens, if not hundreds of people but it’s McDonald’s filmmaking compared to Harryhausen’s lovingly crafted characters. CGI is getting better but it’s not the same as the analogue wonders of Harryhausen.

He’ll be missed.

Bitter Sweet Symphony part four/ Return to the Forbidden Planet

Part one. Part two. Part three.

Before I get into the Great Comic Distribution Wars, I thought it was worth having a quick piece  to follow up what happened in Glasgow when FP opened their shop there in direct competition to AKA.

From 1988 to 1993 Forbidden Planet followed me like a mugger with a carving knife and an erection trying desperately to fuck my plans up at exactly the wrong moment or when things were going well such as the situation in Glasgow that I recounted in part three. Let me explain….

In 1991 I was living in Nottingham after moving from Leicester (more about this sometime in the future) and working a living between working nights in warehouses and doing comic marts in Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham with Chris Bacon (more about Chris in Part Six of this series, The Great Bristol Comic Shop Wars) and having an interesting time to say the least. For various reasons (which I’ll expand upon another time, but it’s non-comics related so not relevant for now) I moved back to Leicester in the summer of 1992, but while I was doing marts in Nottingham I was effectively made persona non grata at Forbidden Planet in Nottingham (”you’re the competition!!!”), and when I moved to Bristol in 1993 to work at Comics and CD’s on Gloucester Road (more about this in part six) I  chose to withdraw from the battle because FP had opened up in Bristol and fucked the shop, but again, I get ahead of myself.

So if I came over as bitter, and still come over as bitter then it feels like I’ve got good reason, but with the super power of hindsight I know it’s not as easy as that, but I’ll expand upon all this in the next couple of blogs.

The point of this blog is to make a few points. I am not saying Forbidden Planet did anything dodgy during their aggressive expansion policies of the 80’s and 90’s even though they absorbed some of the original British comic shops like Odyssey in Manchester and Nostalgia in Birmingham. In fact people like Graham Holt who owned Odyssey became directors of Forbidden Planet, or one of the many companies and subsidiaries that sprung up with ”Forbidden Planet” in it’s name.

In fact there’s several different Forbidden Planet’s as you can see by clicking this link. This results in the frankly surreal situation of going to conventions and seeing two different FP stalls in direct competition with each other. It’s a story that several comics journalists have touched on including Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool , but nobody has ever delved into the messy history of the organisation properly, and frankly someone should. Not because there’s any dark, murky secrets. I don’t think they are and there’s been rumours over the years suggesting just that but I’ve never seen or heard an ounce of proof to suggest wrongdoing, even though 20 years ago I might have dearly wished that to be true.

No, it’s to do a history as to how FP turned comic shops into corporate faceless things, which meant many newer shops followed the template and became equally faceless in an attempt to follow in FP’s wake. It’s an important part of British comics history that people have, to me, deliberately avoided for a variety of reasons.

I appreciate that people like going to FP, and I’ve shopped there myself, but like McDonalds  or Costa Coffee it crushes individuality and creativity in their particular industries. If you look at the examples of the really quite excellent Page 45 in Nottingham  or Gosh! in London, then you can see how comics shops should be in my own humble opinion. I can get genuinely excited going into Page 45 and recapture that joy I had when I was hunting round Glasgow trying to find comics and frankly that’s a precious, glorious thing I don’t get going into FP and staring at a wall of expensive toys, or asking surly staff where a book or comic is. I want to feel like the people running the shop care, and you get that if you go into a local, independent deli, or coffee shop, or comic shop. You don’t get that at Costa, or McDonalds, or FP. It’s just about the coin.

And now that’s off my chest, next time will be The Great Comic Distribution Wars.

Secret Origins part one

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Because one or two people demanded it! It’s the secret origin of me!!

I was born in Glasgow in February 1967. My parents were typically working class Glasgow folk but my father (James) was a protestant and my mother (Dorothy) was a catholic and both were married in the 1950’s.To most readers of this today this seems normal and why the bloody hell would I even start this post by bringing it up, but Dear Reader, this is important because this is Glasgow, and it’s the 1950’s. Sectarianism is rife and the idea of a mixing of religions then was seen as a dangerous thing and I’m really not joking about how badly treated people were for marrying outside their religion then in Glasgow.

Now I don’t know the full details but I know there were rifts in both families, but things were sketchy whenever I asked and considering the majority of my family on both sides joined in the post-war emigration to Australia I never got a chance to ask until I got out there when I was 16 and even then I was swiftly told it wasn’t a subject to bring up.  I got a few details from my uncle on my mothers side, but again things were left vague and it seems both my uncle and my mother had a falling out with religion at an early age, and my father never cared for religion of any kind in a fairly apathetic way so that’s a snapshot of how things were.

So my parents married, my father drifted from labouring work into  being a postie, while my mother stayed a housewife and here’s where the Red Clydeside stuff comes from as her aunt (and my great aunt) as she was one of the organisers of the rent strikes in Partick during the First World War. So there’s a vein of being fucked off and doing something about it in me going back a century and I’m a wee bit proud of this.

But anyhow, they had two boys before me, James and Steven. Then nothing for eight years and I pop along, followed by another boy, Francis, born a year after me. He was sadly a cot-death while we were sharing a room so even though I obviously don’t remember a thing, I still to this day have this awkwardness around babies and all that that unnerves me. The effects of this seeing as I was now the youngest and therefore seen as a survivor (these sort of deaths were depressingly common in working class families across the UK in the 1960’s and have been attributed to a number of things but poverty played a part) I ended up being not spoiled, but protected in a way other children my age weren’t.

I was also educated to a six or seven year old level by the time I started Primary school at age five. This is down to being taught to read and encouraged to read anything I wanted within reason, so this was a mix of Asterix, Tintin, Marvel and DC comics, horror novels for kids, books about films and especially horror and SF, books about history or anything. I would even sit as a five year old in the old library in Possilpark reading the newspapers even though I didn’t understand what was in them all the time, I was encouraged mainly by my parents to just bloody read.

Here’s a picture of the library I spent over a decade reading anything I could in. I believe it’s from the early to mid 80’s.

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This is the main entrance, and the road leading up the hill to the right used to lead to Possilpark Secondary school, so I passed this pretty much every day from 1979 to 84/85. I think I read every Asterix comic, every Tintin, every horror story compilation which meant reading a load of M.R James and anything about Hammer Films as the BBC used to show double bills of horror films on a Saturday night during the summer, which would mean them teaming up a classic Universal horror with a more modern film, normally something from Hammer, but often odd things like The Crazies which was my first exposure to American modern horror films.

So i wouldn’t say I was spoiled, but just a bit protected. Considering the area and the time it’s entirely understandable. It was shite, grim and living a fairly poor life was depressing as there was still a post-war mentality with my parents who were also trying to cope with the fact the 20th century had crawled it’s way to north Glasgow. This isn’t to say we were eating tripe and cardboard every night (only eat tripe once and that’s more than enough and even then my father sneaked off to the chippy to get us some real food half way through that experience) but we were skint constantly and not in this pseudo-Guardian reader type of skint where they didn’t have money to keep their horses, or they only had one holiday that year, but actually fucking broke. That said, we still lived alright. Money was found and like I said, my father worked stupidly long hours.

Most of this time we lived in Possilpark itself on Stonyhurst Street, though we’d moved from Maryhill around or before my birth, but it was clear by 74/75 the area was in steep decline even though there were strong families there fighting to keep it alive, the dealers had moved in and the first heroin addicts started turning up. Luckily my family knew a local councillor  who managed to pull a few strings and we managed to move to a nice house in Milton in 1975 sometime which was for a few years actually a pretty peaceful time. Milton at the time wasn’t that bad. It still had fields and we were only a good walk away from the outskirts of Glasgow and effectively the countryside. It was fairly sweet.

I still went to school in Possilpark and as I’ve pointed out previously I knew where in the city to get my hits of comics, so I was fairly content and being a kid I was happy as long as I had my comics, my dog (which we got when we moved) Doctor  Who, Star Trek and the odd fish supper. Ok, we didn’t do holidays apart from one hellish trip to Millport where it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained..

And there’s was Country and Western. Lots of it.

There was also the odd day trip to Ayr, or Largs or Edinburgh, but mainly life was spent in the grim harshness that was Glasgow of the 70’s. Sure it was a ridiculously hot summer in 1976 and yes, there were fun and good times but looking back there’s a melancholic air about everything we did as we were all struggling to survive which meant looking over our shoulders all the time. What joy we did have we grabbed, so that is either a hot summer flying stunt kites, or getting to see Scotland qualify for the 1978 World Cup, or just anything really.

Around 1979 things started going a bit wrong.  My oldest brother James suddenly went from being a fairly social person to being quiet and odd, while my other brother Steve started going to a local group of SF fans who met at the Wintersgills pub who had formed a group called ”The Friends of Kilgore Trout‘ or FOKT for short. It was here he met one of the organisers, a chap by the name of Bob Shaw who I’ve mentioned before and will mention a lot more of in the future. So Steve started hanging out a lot with the FOKT crowd and started becoming very involved with organising Glasgow’s SF Convention Faircon, which was held during the Fair Fortnight every July. They quickly became just an event for a hundred or so Scottish SF fans to something which attracted a national and even worldwide audience.

Things were also changing for me. I’d finished primary school and left Hawthorn Primary School to go to secondary at Possilpark Secondary. I learned a lot of things very quickly here, and it was an odd place with some very odd teachers, but that’s maybe for another time.

Which brings us Dear Reader to the start of 1980. Everything is sort of ok, but in 18 months time everything starts going very, very wrong…

But that’s Part Two of my Secret Origin….