The long story of a death of a comic shop in Glasgow

Back in the mid to late 1990’s I was all over the place not because I was drunk and on drugs (most of the time) but because I’d more or less pulled out of the comics industry and was now working in the licensed trade in Leicester. I was also having a great time going to festivals and gigs in the Midlands, the South West and London so if anything, my time in the story of Glasgow’s comics scene was reduced to at best, fleeting cameo roles.

I’m now back living in Glasgow after 28 years partly to recuperate from a stroke and recover from cancer treatment, which has seen me get better however as I’m now signed off work I have a lot of free time which means sitting around drinking tea with some old friends and talking about comics not to mention all the gossip I’ve missed in the last decades when I was sunning myself in Bristol.In the course of all this I’ve unpicked some scabby wounds which may well be new to me, but to the people concerned are old scars they thought healed. I’m not going to go into those because frankly, it isn’t my business to repeat what I’ve been told as this blog is about trying to put up my own recollections and tell a history (where I can) of things which haven’t been told.

However a friend on Facebook pointed out this blog titled ”Death throes of a comic shop‘. It makes interesting reading to say the least and as someone who was a bit-part player in the Glasgow comics scene at the time some of it seemed, well, wrong, even libellous in places. I didn’t have any first hand accounts of the time, and I’d only recently found out the exact reasons why legendary Glasgow comic shop AKA Books and Comics went out of business in the 90’s. So I thought I’d ask people who were there at the time and got their version of the story spun in the blog and their replies were all universal in that the aforementioned blog is indeed spinning a very skewed historical record of events, and indeed, some of the people named in the blog have some good reason to ask for a right to reply at least. One or two may well find themselves reaching for a solicitors number.

If you haven’t read the blog by this point I suggest you do.There’s some parts worth highlighting though.

 This small fact brings up the thorny notion of wether or not I name people here.  Having given it a long though I have decided not to.  All the names have been changed to protect the innocent as they say.  Not sure many come out of this looking like they were ever innocent but that is for others to decide based on my description of the story above!

The UK’s libel laws are a complex mess depending where in the UK you actually are, but as Katie Hopkins will tell you, you have to be very clear in not naming people or essentially slurring their name without some good reason or proof backing you up. I know this as in one of my blogs I did just that (don’t bother looking for it, it no longer is online) but like the person I was smearing, I was a victim (of a bastard called Joshua Bonehill) so once I found out the truth I deleted the blog and apologised to the person affected. I learned a lot about libel there. The fact is you can’t just remove a letter (in this case ”John” becomes ”Jon”) while making the person clearly identifiable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the time and people being discussed. That’s libellous potentially and in the next paragraph he makes it quite clear who he is.

It is worth saying that only really three people who were involved day to day in the running of the shop have ever known the whole truth, and each of them only knows aspects of that truth. Each of us has will obviously have a coloured memory of the events I will outline. However conversations in depth with one of the others confirms pretty much everything I am going to say here. Nothing would come as a shock to him as he knows it all. The other guy, well a lot of what I am going to say will come as a shock not so much as he will find it new information but that it is information he would rather stayed hidden away. See he is a “figure” in the comic book scene. As my American friends might say he has more front than Macy’s and this might give a few people a peek behind the facade!  My business partner had been with the shop since it opened.  Fair to say he was a founding member of the Glasgow comic book scene really.

So we’ve got a story of the last days of AKA, the subsequent shop that followed it, and the collapse of that shop which lead to what is now A1 Toys in Parnie Street in Glasgow.

That story is at best a skewed version of events. At worst it’s a mix of half thruths and bullshit interjected with ego-boosting self-aggrandizement with the odd snippet of full-on truth thrown in. I think the worst of it is the way the author makes it clear exactly who it is he’s talking about by throwing in facts which will clearly identify them. This is shaky ground to say the least.

One of the local comic book artists who I had become quite good friends with was negotiating a business deal with Jon about coming on as a silent partner.  Jon was keen on this, Kolin McFeel (yeah, not real name!) was a big name in the UK comic scene, having recently completed a seminal Judge Dredd and then a Chopper story for 2000AD that had set a very high bar for others to hit.

I mean, really, really??

That said, there are fair points made. For example:

I can’t remember when it was that things got a little sour but I know that it was caused when David called our hotel from the shop.  Turns out we were in San Diego when Batman 500 had been released and our order from Titan Distributors was missing the entire order, some 200 copies of it.  Jon and I managed to find the head of Titan in the convention hall and decided to ask what the hell was going on.  At that time comics were so time sensitive we knew that unless we could get the right book at the right time at least 50% of our non-ordered sales would go, and a good few orders would be knocked back.  The idea of customer loyalty to a comic shop was a myth in those days.  Get the books on the day of release or eat the loss of sales.

This is mostly true of the time. The release of Batman #500 dates this to late summer 1993 as at this point I was working in the nearly legendary Comics and CD’s on the Gloucester Road in Bristol and I can testify to just a huge book it was. I even ended up being interviewed on local radio about it so huge was it that the real world outwith of the comics bubble was interested.

For a shop to lose that was a disaster, and with Neptune Distribution having died a horrible death the year previously, a shop then would have found their options limited which is where I quote;

During our strategy talks we discussed moving our supply business away from Titan, who were merging with Diamond and to the US based Capital distributors.  We figured out we could import and transport comics to the shop and still get a better price than buying from Titan.  So we got a copy of their trade magazine and placed an order.  Jon had dealt with them before so an account was there and I was sure they would take our order happily and gain a UK customer foothold.  One thing that I didn’t ask, and that Jon didn’t mention, was our current situation with Titan.  It was that situation that would lead to the final moments of the shop, but we will get to that later!

A wee recap of the distribution of comics is in order. Today we get comics shipped in from the States so quickly you can still smell the sweaty armpits of the blokes who loaded up the boxes onto planes in America. It wasn’t always like that. In the 80’s you’d wait weeks, even months for comics to travel the Atlantic to reach the UK. There was only one big UK distributor, Titan, run by Nick Landau and Mike Lake. In the mid 80’s to the early 90’s there was also Neptune, based in Leicester where I worked for a time after moving down from Glasgow in 1988 where I’d previously worked at AKA. In 1993 Neptune was bust and the American distributor Diamond had taken over Neptune’s accounts (Neptune and Diamond always had close links) as they made huge strides into the UK market and global domination. en eventual monopoly on distributing American comics in the UK.

In 1993 Titan were dominant. If you had other sources (and we did in Bristol for some comics) you could get a massive advantage over your competitors. People aren’t loyal on the whole and if there’s a gap in the market, or if the market can be weighted to advantage someone else then a business will do it. Sure there was a time where in the world of comics things were a tad more civil, and cities and towns that have more than one shop often see each other get on personally, but the idea of businesses doing well by each other went the way of frizzy perms and big shoulder pads in the 80’s. So in this background it’s perfectly reasonable for a business to try to fuck off their main supplier if they’re trying to fuck you off.

However things get, well, a tad libellous from here on in.

I would say to make a long story short but there is actually a word that explains what Jon had been doing with Capital.  That word was “fraud”.

‘Fraud’ is one of those things you need to be able to back up when you accuse someone of it. In this case anyone who knows who ‘Jon’ is will be querying where the author of the piece is going to provide documentary proof of this.

See, there’s a number of stories you pick up when you’re involved in an industry. I’ve told stories about people in comics on this blog. Some stories I’ve held back because they’ll be upsetting for friends or they cross a legal, and moral, line or bluntly I’d end up in the shite. The author of the blog doesn’t quite realise just how serious this stuff is or how harmful it can be, which isn’t to say they’re not allowed a voice, but be careful how you’re saying things. Which is an issue as the blog continues on as people are named, in some cases accused of things which having spoken to others who were also there (there’s an incident at the old Empire pub in Glasgow that isn’t quite as it is here) at the time.

Listen, I’m all for gossip and setting the record straight and in this case I can’t give a first hand account of all of what’s discussed on the blog but having discussed it with those who were I have to say that if you are going to discuss events be prepared to ride the ripples from them if you paint a version which doesn’t ring well with others who were there.

Or as the author of the blog says;

Over the years I have overheard my former business partner tell his stories, only the dates have been changed and I know the stories well as I heard them in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they had just happened then.  There is a “glory days” trap and he is in it.  I have no interest any more, he is part of the past and a past I am pleased to be shot of.  As we approach another anniversary of the events outlined I felt it was time to write my part down.  I am sure some would disagree with various details and some might even be offended by what I wrote but it is how I remember it happening.  As details come back to me, as anecdotes come back to me I might update this post.  If anyone who is there jogs a memory I might update as well.  Who knows, the past isn’t written in stone!

Well, here’s my attempt to ‘update’ the past. For the record some of those people mentioned in the blog will be made aware of what’s been said and they I’m sure will be only too glad to disagree with the details and put the record straight.

An update on Futureshock, Glasgow’s first comic shop

Back in August 2014 I found out that Neil Craig, the owner of Futureshock had passed away. Futureshock was Glasgow’s first real comic shop, and Neil had been onboard from its early days when it was called Photon Books through to it’s end 34 years or so later. Since then the shop sat with it’s stock slowly fading thanks to the meagre sunshine Glasgow gets.

I’ve promised to find out what’s going on, partly because there was an idea of perhaps finding out who owned/leased the property and perhaps take it over myself when I get up to Glasgow, but illness hit me at the start of the year and although I’m hopefully over the worst, I still have issues to deal with before I’m hopefully fit to move from Bristol to Glasgow in the autumn.

So I’ve been relying upon friends to keep me updated, and around a month ago the shop started to be cleared of stock.

Futureshock

Unfortunately finding out who owns what in Scotland is an overcomplicated mess,  or costs more money than I’m willing to pay. It is basically, headache inducing trying to work out who owns what but I did find an old ad from an issue of the New Scientist in 1981 advertising that year’s summer SF convention in Glasgow called Faircon. If I lived in Glasgow I could go to the relevant offices and check the details for free but it strikes me it’ll be a pity to let Futureshock die, which sadly it looks like it’ll have to.

For a while I’ve dabbled with the idea of writing something, be it a series of blogs here or elsewhere, or even a book about British comics fandom and for me, Futureshock would be an essential part of that history as when the shop opened there were a handful of shops across the UK. In a time when remembering most of these shops has fell upon the shoulders of ageing fans in the darkest corners of social media, it seems a shame one of the last original locations is probably going to be some shitty Starbucks, or a Hipster shop selling ethical vegan doughnuts.

So basically unless a miracle happens Futureshock is done and a bit of Glasgow’s comic history will be lost forever.

Comic Shop Confessions

comicbookguyWith the increasing popularity of comics, comic book related film and the crawling spread of ‘geek culture’, there’s a rise of people opening comic shops (or ‘stores’ as said by Americans) thinking they’ll make their millions, but end up going tits up. As someone with decades of experiences in retail, distribution, publishing and shopping in these places here’s a wee guide of half a dozen or so do’s and don’ts for people thinking of venturing into retail…

1/ NAMING YOUR DREAM SHOP

This is more important than you think. If you come up with a crap name then nobody is going to remember it. If you also come up with a name that screams ‘sad fanboy’ then you’re going to have a limited clientèle from the off. So no Android’s Dungeon.

2/ WHAT SORT OF SHOP ARE YOU?

Think that just selling comics is all you’ll do? Fine, but what sort of comics? You just going to sell superhero books? Fine, but that person coming in asking for the latest issue of Love and Rockets that can’t find it and is faced with unhelpful staff has just taken a steady 40 or 50 quid a month with them,

That’s a very specific example I used because it’s exactly what happened to me in a shop in Bristol. I walked in, asked about Love and Rockets, got a couple of blank looks. Asked in they have any of the recent books, got more blank looks and at that point left it, walked round to Waterstones who did have some of the recent collections and spent 50 quid there.

So the lesson is that you may think it’s a ‘silly little book’ but know your stuff. You may be turning away custom if all you’re doing is sell superhero comics. Page 45 in Nottingham and Gosh! in London have been in business for decades because they sell a diverse selection of comics alongside superhero comics so learn from them.

3/ WHO DO YOU EMPLOY?

If you open a shop and employ your mate who’s experience is reading a load of X Men comics, watching daytime telly and wanking, then that might not be the most reliable person to look after your business.

And remember, it’s a business you’re running, not a care home for your mates who can’t be arsed finding a job. Can you trust them? Do you think they know their stuff? Can they sell because I’m tired of walking into comic shops across the UK where the staff can’t actually sell what they’ve got on the shelves.

Here’s an example. 20 odd years ago I worked in a comic shop in Bristol. Some lad came in asking for a Hulk comic which we didn’t have, but I spent five minutes pointing a few alternatives out and he spent more money than he was intending to. He drinks down my local today and still remembers me selling him those Hulk comics, and in  fact still has them and reads them.

Make the effort. Don’t just sneer at people walking around the shop or constantly stare at them when they’re browsing, something I especially despise. People have walked in your shop, give them a bit of respect.

4 /DON’T TREAT WOMEN AS AN ALIEN RACE

I first took a girlfriend to a comic convention around 1992. On the Saturday she wore a not especially low cut top, but the amount of lads who would be unable to make eye contact with her as she worked our tables was ridiculous. After initially laughing it off she decided to give things a break, and this is only one story in dozens where I’ve seen women walk into shops and be treated like an alien life form.

Here’s a thing. Women buy comics too. They have money. Some even like superhero comics. So when one walks in don’t sit behind the country drooling. Make shopping a comfortable experience and don’t be a creepy wanker.

5/ KEEP THE SHOP CLEAN

You’d think people would get this, but again I’ve walked into shops where there’s a lair of dust over the back issues, or in one case in a shop in Nottingham, a thin lair of grease which I have no idea how it got there but it meant I never, ever went back to it.

It’s not much to ask to even vacuum the carpet once a day if you have one, or run a mop over the floor. People notice these things and like walking into places that aren’t as filthy as a bad fried chicken place.

6/ MAKE IT FUN

Comics as a medium are primarily about entertainment. You’ve opened a shop because you love comics so don’t sit there making your own life, and those coming in, totally miserable. Don’t sit there blaring out Heavy Metal and being miserable, throw in some enthusiasm for the medium and you’ll see people come in, stay and spend money if you do.

I hope I’ve given a few wee tips, but in today’s market where superheroes and comics are very much the mainstream, if you’ve got the right location and the right stock, you should make a good go of your shop. After all ”geek culture” is mainstream and all you have to do is get those lovely punters through your door…..