One year later…..

A year ago I started writing this blog around the same time Margaret Thatcher finally stopped breathing, so two good things happened at the same time…

In that year I’ve written a lot of guff, some ok stuff and the odd thing I’ve been proud of. I leave it to the reader to skim through what I’ve written to work out which is which but I reckon I’ve done more good than bad, so at this first anniversary I’m looking forward to what’s coming up in the near future.

  • I hope to finally lay the beast of the Daily Bale to rest. I’ve not continued blogging about this because frankly, it doesn’t deserve to take up more of my time than it has and I’ve also done my bit to get the fucking thing in court. This isn’t to say I’ll never return to it, but after Joshua Bonehill’s sentencing, I’m leaving it.
  • My series of Glastonbury blogs have been great fun to write and I’m working right now on my history of 2005’s festival and here’s a wee clue for the title of the blog..

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  • Comics!! I’m planning something shamelessly nostalgic for Glaswegian comic fans of a certain age. I’ve also enjoyed doing my reviews not to mention my odd rant about the state of comics
  • Rants! This seems to have been something judging from the general views I’m getting that makes up what people want to read, so I’m working on a sequel of sorts to this blog about Stokes Croft in Bristol just in time for the third anniversary of the riots…

I’m also going to do some more ’20 best of lists’ as I’ve done with horror, SF and comic films with probably documentaries being next, though I reserve the right to change my mind on that. I’m also going to do some more odd stuff, some of which may be a wee bit more of the personal biography I’ve been threading through a lot of my blogs.

This means I’m finally going to tell the time I reenacted this…………

So thanks for the last year, it’s been different!

The Final Days of Summer

It’s the last few weeks of summer, and like virtually every summer for the last 13 or so years I sat there in April or so saying ‘I’m not going to be stuck in an office this summer’ before going on to be stuck in an office that summer, or that I’d have an ”easy summer’ when in fact, I’m utterly knackered.

I’m not going to bore you with the fine details as there’s people in worse situations but it’s just sad to watch another summer end with the potential of that summer pour down the drain. In fact the point of this is to say that one of the ideas I had for a comic was about a man watching thinking about his life as he sits by the seafront watching the last rays of summer fade. No capes. No fights. Just a story of normal lives. Might actually do this one as there’s some potential in it.

Anyhow, it’s the end of summer which means we all desperately try to avoid talking about Christmas while milking we can out of the last few summer days.

As for me, next summer I won’t be stuck in an office. Honest….

Misogyny and Male Privilege in Mainstream Comics

There’s a lot of chatter at the moment in regards to the various issues with misogyny in mainstream comics, and in particular comics fandom as if this is somehow a new thing. It isn’t, but what is new is the venom, not to mention the sheer closed minded ignorance shown by fans and within the industry.

As people who have read my rambling blogs will know, I’ve been reading comics most of my life, and have spent around half my working life working in the industry in retail, publishing and distribution so this is me laying out a few credentials here before any passer-by chips in with a ‘well, what do you know’ load of bollocks. I’ve discussed comics as a medium with the likes of Will Eisner, Alan Moore, John Wagner and a load of other creators over the years. Basically I’m coming at this with just a wee bit of pedigree just in case anyone tries to rubbish my opinions based on what I know so now that’s out the way let’s move on.

Firstly, I’ve no problem with cheesecake. I love artists like Dave Stevens, Steranko, or the great damaged genius that was Wally Wood. Wood especially is someone who is as far as I’m concerned one of the best comic book artists America has ever produced but he could knock out either something so sublime and subtle..

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Or exactly the opposite..

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This isn’t about censorship but it’s about quality, and to make the point clear, there’s nothing wrong with what used to be called ‘Good Girl Art‘ as there’s a naive innocence in much of it even though it’s objectified images of women, it’s playful fun though as pointed out, it did just sometimes cross into soft porn it was mainly relatively harmless, if often crass.

The fact is that mainstream comics in the US are essentially power fantasies, so the male characters are strong defenders of the truth who look like wrestlers, while the women were sexy, but relatively chaste women who were initially window dressing in post Comics Code comics which was the status quo for women in comics up til the 70’s when women started to develop into nearly two dimensional characters (male characters like Spider Man had got acne giving them that much needed realism superheroes needed back in the early 60’s) and being treated nearly like people. Yes, they did dress like Disco Strippers, but Luke Cage also used to wear a tiara and if they can make him look sensible, then they can do that with female characters.

Sweet Christmas!

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The point of this meandering is to basically say that there was sexism and misogyny, that it was plain to be seen, but there was an innocence as things (Red Sonja’s metal bikini for example)  may have been ridiculous, but there were attempts to make things better for women on the page. There wasn’t the pornofication of women characters, though that was happening in Underground Comics but that’s a blog all by itself.

It should be pointed out that the majority of people working then and now in mainstream comics are white blokes with the odd exception like the great Marie Severin or Ramona Fradon it was mainly men so you can see how things developed which isn’t to say that someone like Chris Claremont (Claremont is now marginalised by many modern fans but without him Joss Whedon has no ideas) didn’t try as can been seen over the horrible tale of Ms Marvel’s rape in an issue of The Avengers but the problem was and indeed, still is, a lack of women working in mainstream American comics. This means we get a very male, often very middle class, very white and obviously very American view of reality which sometimes threw up drivel like Ms Marvel’s rape, or the downright mess that the character Power Girl became over the years.

It really wasn’t til the late 80’s that the real pornofication of mainstream comics kicked in, with artists like Rob Liefeld drawing people very badly but to staggering amounts of popularity. It’d be wrong for me not to post this image of Captain America as it’s so bad it never fails to make me laugh….

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But it was Liefeld’s women who were from another world.

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Women no longer started to look real, and the concept of Good Girl Art went out the window for this pornofied, utterly objectified version of women which tapped into an older audience as mainstream comics moved slowly away from being aimed at children and now at teenagers and older. I don’t blame Liefeld all by himself for this as that would do even a hack like him an injustice, but he’s by far the best example of this. There’s dozens more just as bad, if not worse but the Bad Girl Art style was created and as comics were driven away from newsagents and newstands thanks to the growth of the direct market, publishers went for more ”adult” material which in fact meant, tits,& arse with lashings of violence, which by the 90’s was joined by rape, gore, more extreme violence and women’s roles being defined in most titles as the ‘warrior maid/kick ass babe’ type, the ‘whore with a heart’, or the love interest waiting to be killed to give the male hero justification, or  Women in Refrigerators (WiR) as Gail Simone coined it.

Then there’s the subject of rape in mainstream comics, which isn’t to say it’s a topic not to be covered. It should be as Moore and Gibbons did in Watchmen, or Peter David did (within the limits of the Comics Code) in his excellent Hulk run but these writers didn’t use it to shock for shocks sake though when Moore used it in Miracleman #14 it was meant to be shocking and horrifying as it’s a key moment in the story, not to mention a warning for the horrors which follow.

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The problem is that writers with vastly less talent than Moore, David or Simone saw rape as an easy shock tactic which resulted in the obscenity which was Identity Crisis and the rape of Sue Dibney.

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After this the floodgates opened and what were fun children;s characters all ages could enjoy were turned into violent nutters, whores, or victims. The justification often given is that we live in a post-911 world and mainstream comics should represent that, which is true but this does not represent the world rather than a version of the world through male eyes and in particular, male eyes who’ve grown up seeing women as purely objects or plot devices in comics, so you get this grim world where writers throw around rape casually, or women are killed or maimed to make a point (yes, I’m aware of the Killing Joke before anyone asks) and we end up in a point where we have stuff like this from the fucking awful Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.

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Which is laughably defended by some as empowering for women because a section of male fans think what is empowering to women is fucking everyone around them, which brings us screaming out of providing a bit of backstory to the whole thing about male privilege.

There was always the attitude that girls were breaking into a boys world with comics in the US (unlike the UK where girls comics were huge business from the 50’s to 80’s when the weekly market collapsed) in the 60’s onwards but it moved from the ‘eww, girls have cooties‘ phase to something nastier as it is today where it’s genuinely unpleasant to read forums or the reports of women essentially being assaulted at conventions because they dress up as their favourite characters which seems to be free range for some blokes to grope, feel and molest their way round conventions.

I admit to still being puzzled by the whole cosplay thing, even back in the day when cosplay was called fancy dress and you used to have people pretending to be Mr. Fantastic by taping together a load of cardboard tubes, painting them blue and sticking them on their arms. It’s all harmless fun and should be treated as such though, as opposed to trying to cop a feel because it’s probably the only time you’ll get near a woman.

It’s also worth pointing out that mainstream comics do try now and then to give realistic versions of women and one such example was the splendid Alias written by Brian Bendis around a decade or so ago. It didn’t last and when the main character joined the mainstream Marvel Universe she moves from this real woman to one we see in superhero comics all the time with her tits and arse in such impossible poses that you wonder when her body will break.

There’s a very good article here by Kelly Thompson which details a lot of the debate, including examples of the infamous brokeback pose such as this.

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There’s always been sexy females in mainstream comics, but there was a vague attempt (within the context of the superhero universe) at realism in all but the very worst examples. Now this ridiculous idea that all women leap around fighting like Porno Jugglers with their underwear up their arse. It doesn’t serve the story, nor the context of the characters but it does serve the audience, or at least, a part of the audience. And again, I’m against censorship, and some porn is fine but there’s a context and a time and a place and it isn’t using children’s characters marketed at kids, or pandering to a core misogynistic and vocal group of fans who tend to dominate online debate.

Thankfully things seem to be changing slowly even though the debate over ‘fake Geek Girls’ continues, and people point out the inane insanity of the poses women are put through but it’s going to take a load of work to make things right and that’s going to start with Marvel and DC pulling their heads out their arses to appeal to more than 20-40 something males. Make superhero comics fun, enjoyable and most of all accessible without making them childish or excluding your next two generations of readers only know your characters through cartoons, or games, or toys rather than the source medium. Fans should pull up other fans groping women at conventions or shaming them, or calling them whores.

Before anyone says ‘but, but it’s an AMERICAN problem!‘ let’s not be so bloody stupid. I’ve seen the few women who used to go to cons here be ogled and groped, including one girlfriend of mine at a Bristol Expo around a decade ago. We’re not even talking drunken stupidity (of which I’ve done my fair share) but opportunism to feel some female flesh because you don’t know if you’ll ever get another chance in life to do so. There’s also been incidents going back to the UKCAC days which I’m not going to go into detail about as they were dealt with at the time & they tended not to happen again, but you get the point that if you sit back watching these things happen & don’t try to make it better then you’re making things worse.

There are a number of things horribly wrong with ”Geek Culture” and the modern mainstream comics fan ranging from an ignorance of the comics medium, to a concentration on things being AWESOME at the expense of anything else, and ooo, lots more I might write about another day but at the same time, for most people it’s about finding something fun and enjoyable so nothing spoils that more than being told you’re a slag because you’re wearing a short dress or you see the wandering hands some fans have.

It feels as if things aren’t going to change unless something very, very horrible happens to a woman at a convention, and even then they’ll be blokes blaming her. I hope it doesn’t and I hope the various campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic educate or shame enough blokes to stop what they’re doing and grow up. It really isn’t that hard just to keep your hands to yourselves and act like decent human beings is it?  Comics as a medium is just fine, but mainstream superhero comics are taking a kicking, much of it rightly so, which is why expanding the audience and thinking long term for the future is better than just running Marvel and DC for a core, mainly male fanbase while the parent companies run off and make summer blockbusters from these characters because Marvel & DC are now basically intellectual property farms for film & the associated merchandising spawned from these characters. This is why women are coming in. They like these characters but the core fan doesn’t want their boys club broken into. Tough. If you love the medium and the characters then celebrate the fact it’s not just a relatively small number of people who enjoy them now.

Sadly I don’t think things will ever be perfect, or indeed, get anywhere near it but if anything we should be standing up against the sense of entitlement from some fans, and also, praising those who do turn and want to change things.

And with that, I’m off to read some old EC Comics so I can look at some Wally Wood art….

The Eisnercon-Glasgow’s First Comic Convention

eisnerconI mentioned in an early blog post about the Eisnercon, and went into detail about GLASCAC but haven’t said anything about the first real comic convention Glasgow held in 1986. This isn’t to say Glasgow didn’t have large comic related events, it did, but they were either the large Marts that the comic shop, AKA organised, or the signing sessions held at AKA featuring a lot of the rising British talent of the time but there wasn’t the big convention of the type we’d be familiar with today.

By the mid-80’s Glasgow was well established for holding regular SF conventions with Albacon being the regular one held over a weekend during Glasgow’s Fair Fortnight, which grew out of the original Faircon which is (and will be) a blog in itself. Anyhow the idea from John McShane, Pete Root and the others at AKA was to organise a large 3-day convention along the same lines as what was being done with SF conventions and to have a full programme of events, dealers room, film room (ended up being a video room but more on this later) and of course, a bar which would never, ever close unless it ran out of beer.

The convention was to be in the Central Hotel in Glasgow mainly because this is where the SF conventions had made a home so the management and staff were used to working with such events and that it was a cheapish, good central location. It also helped reduce the risks as although comic conventions were fairly common and frequent south of the border they also fell quickly by the wayside in a lot of cases, so a good location was paramount as was a good guest list which could be counted on with AKA’s connections but the convention needed an American guest for credibility and it got Will Eisner.

I’m going to have to make a confession here that I vaguely knew Eisner because of The Spirit, and his influence upon Frank Miller’s work but I really didn’t know much else even though I was by now firmly embedded in AKA and John McShane and several other customers adored his work. I was moving away from being a superhero reader only thanks to titles like Love & Rockets but it was still early days however this convention would change a lot of my reading habits forever.

John had managed to get Eisner as the main guest along with Marv Wolfman who was still riding high from Crisis on Infinite Earths, while we had Bryan Talbot as the main British guest along with a couple of dozen others including Alan Davis, Alan Moore, and Alan Grant. This was a huge deal getting someone of Eisner’s stature and the British guest list would still pack out halls today so anticupation was huge.

One day sitting around AKA various jobs were being bandied around so people could do them and I fancied my hand at doing the film room, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford getting a projectors, films and paying for them, so we downscaled to a video room. One of AKA’s customers was a chap by the name of Hugh Campbell who used to do a nice wee fanzine called Fusion. Yes, this is a Grant Morrison cover of Kid Marvelman…

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It also used to be printed and assembled in the back shop of AKA and I did one issue, #5 I think, but it was a splendid fanzine which Hugh did a great job with. Hugh also had an amazing collection of VHS videos, including some pre Video Nasty versions of films which instantly appealed to the gorehound that I was back in those days, but the idea was to get a programme to appeal to everyone & to run it really late, or indeed all night, which meant people could kip in the room overnight.  The Central were amazingly accommodating and to this day I’m amazed at the stuff they let pass during the conventions they had there.

We publicised the convention in the shop, not to mention the other shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus in the comic press and anywhere we could. Expectations were high and we’d tried to make it as affordable as possible, but advanced numbers weren’t what everyone hoped but there was still the will with everyone involved with AKA to make it work, plus we didn’t know what would happen on the weekend itself.

By the time the weekend came I’d got around 40-50 films from Hugh and built up a programme which I thought would go down well with things like the Superman films, Blade Runner, and  of course, a few Video Nasties. I’d also got myself a few minions to help and to allow me to dive out to the bar.

If all this sounds fun can I point out that organising convention can be fun but it’s also extraordinary hard work, not to mention that if something fucks up (as it did) then you’re held responsible and people will delight in telling you that but thankfully the convention came and went along it’s way quite smoothly considering that we were all utterly and totally blagging it as running a 3-day con with all it entails is an entirely different beast to running a mart.

As for Will Eisner he was a complete gentleman who had time for everyone including the tosser who thought he could tell him about perspective! How can some spotty faced wee wanker tell the man who drew this about perspective?!

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Moving on…

The video room was going well with the odd technical problem being dealt with as and when but I’d worked out that if I put really long films on in the evening then it’d give me time to grab some food, or a drink or get my head down for an hour or so. There was also an incident with a young girl who became upset by a scene near the start of the film The Howling which features an extreme scene of rape which takes place on a TV screen in the background of one scene. I hadn’t thought of that incident for years til being reminded of it.

The main programme consisted of talks & a lot of Eisner doing classes in drawing which were amazing to watch as the man was a genius. I don’t really remember much else of the programme as I was busy/sleeping/drunk but what I saw was fun, but the dealers room seemed awfully thin of customers. In fact the honest truth was the entire weekend was thin on the ground when it came to attendees with a rough estimate of 300 or so people there over the 3-day event.

It didn’t make it’s money back. It may have been an artistic success but AKA couldn’t afford to bankroll another one so we fell back on signing sessions and the bigger marts and there wouldn’t be a big convention in Glasgow again til 1990.

Looking back at it I suppose you could say it was ahead of it’s time and you’d be right. Had it been held in 1988 then things would have been very different but it was influential in helping some Glasgow based creators get some connections, plus Eisner’s classes clearly influenced some people to take up drawing but it’s sadly fell down the back of the sofa of history and been forgotten about. I’d like to get more stories from it as it’s an important bit of British comics history that needs to be fleshed out, so if anyone reading this wants to add anything then feel free to contact me as I consider this very much a work in progress…

Won’t Anyone Think Of The Children?!?-Why David Cameron’s ”War on Porn” is Dangerous For Us All

David Cameron has come out today decrying the access children have to pornography and he’s going to jolly well tell those ISP’s what for and sort out the ‘Corrosion of Childhood’ once and for all!

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Cameron wants to make porn something that ISP’s automatically block and that the customer (remember this word, it’s important) will have to contact the ISP to opt out, and in doing so this will create a list of people who have opted out which creates a problematic situation as in what does an ISP do with such lists?

Here’s where I take a diversion and try to be as vague as possible for reasons which will become apparent quickly. Over the last 13 or so years I’ve worked for various marketing companies and large organisations who either as a side effect of their business, or as a core of their business, collate large lists of data. These lists of data are sold, or used by those in various positions to gather information by looking at trends, etc. The data sold can end up anywhere and there’s rules and regulations around it, but it’s also the case there’s ways round this so I don’t believe for one minute this is anything but an excuse to mine data for people who may, or may not, be deemed a potential hazard to children and society in general. After all the tone of the debate is now so moralistic and dealing in sheer absolutes that logical argument is being disregarded because it’s all about the Big Political Gesture.

The problem is that do you trust Cameron and this government to not do anything with all this juicy data the ISP’s will have at their fingertips? Do you think there’s not going to be potential abuse as soon as you opt out because you might want to be an adult and watch adult things online? Does this not fill you with dread that the potential for a system where government interferes with your searches is now entirely possible as that’s exactly what’s on the table after today.

This isn’t advocating child abuse or saying there shouldn’t be something done to stop it, or the increasing pornofication of our culture and our children. We should but this isn’t the way to go round it as assuming people are incapable of making decisions by themselves, while ignoring the strong case that parents aren’t doing enough to protect their own children is frankly a weak one but it all hinges on the fact that Cameron really isn’t doing anything but doing a switch and bait tactic here.

It’s come to light that Cameron’s ”election guru” is balls deep with a private health alliance when he was advising on the Coalition’s NHS reforms. This is pretty major and it’s starting to smell like some serious lobbying, and therefore corruption of the system, has been going on but Cameron’s changed the political debate to this and suddenly everyone is thinking about the children.

Of course there’s little or no mention of how Cameron cut the funding to CEOP, or anything which he’s done in government which actually makes the policing of the internet (and most people bar the most hardened libertarian agrees these things need policing) incredibly difficult because they don’t have the support from government they need, and also, this simplification of the argument means there will be the impression that this is going to solve everything and that parents don’t need to check their children’s internet browsing, or educate them about the dangers, or that as a society we should stop trying to sexualise children from a ridiculously young age, or any number of very hard, tough questions which aren’t going to be solved by opting in or out of your ISP’s filters. How does he suggest dealing with the issue of streamed abuse, or any of the other ways abusers get their jollies?

He can’t beyond some platitudes about get your ‘best brains’ to sort it out because he’s again, not looking to solve the problem, just look like he’s trying to solve a problem.

Then there’s the problematic part of this:

 Mr Cameron said possession of online pornography depicting rape would be made illegal. 

Sounds reasonable enough, except who defines what is ‘extreme’ pornography? Let me give you an example, and this is the point if you’re reading this and are a child then ask your parents to read the rest of this before carrying on, and if you’re easily offended it’s time to go read something else.

I own a copy of Lost Girls by Alan Moore and his wife, the artist Melinda Gebbie. It’s a clear work of pornography as images like this make clear that what you’re reading is porn.

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That’s a mild pornographic image. You’d have to be exceptionally prudish to be offended by it.

What about this?

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That probably passes for fairly extreme porn for a lot of people, but say someone more homophobic than you or I decides that’s actually ”harmful’. There’s more extreme images in the book (including children as well) I could post but you get the point that who decides what is ‘harmful’ even in a case where what’s happening is totally imaginary because it’s not real even if it uses real actions & events.

Is the Last House on the Left illegal? The Virgin Spring? Shakespeare? The Bible? Who appoints our moral guardians because this is the question here as well? From past experience it’s going to be people like Graham Bright back in the 80’s, the folk at Mumsnet and so on as they agree with the government view.

Let’s also note the comparisons briefly here between this and the Video Nasty fiasco. That too was based upon lies and disinformation but the less we learn from history the more we’re doomed to let people like Cameron sell us the same lies but slightly repackaged.

If you’re now saying ‘but surely Cameron is concerned about the sexualisation of society and is doing something’ then may I draw attention to the fact he’s clearly said he’s not going to support a ban on Page 3 because I quote:

“This is an area where we should leave it to consumers to decide, rather than to regulators,”

Here’s the thing; remember how I said earlier in this blog about ‘customers’? It’s the same situation as if someone wants to download a bit of already legal porn, or watch a film or read a book or comic with violent sexual imagery in it they happen to be just as much as a customer as someone looking at Page 3. So where’s the consistency?

There isn’t one as we know Cameron is in with The Sun and Murdoch, so it’s not in his and his party’s interest to come out against Page 3 even though the case for it contributing to the sexualisation of society and therefore helping cause the problems Cameron talks about has been around for a while now.

See if you only assume the market will decide, you end up with the sexualisation of society as advertisers and marketing departments sell sex to younger and younger children because kids think sex is adult and if they think they’re adults you can flog shite to them. Page 3 sells the idea that women need only to get their tits out to progress in society. The language used by people in war is sexual as pointed out by Alan Moore in this interview.

Morphizm: The age boys go to war is often the age of their sexual prime.
Alan Moore: Absolutely, and increasingly there are an awful lot of women going to war now, which is a terrible waste. So there’s that, the killing of the sexually capable and active often by old men who, as you can imagine, are beginning to be a little bit past it. And then there is the weird sexual language of warfare. For example, when America bombed Libya, the bomber pilots took off from Britain and came back to us saying that they shot their rockets right up Libya’s back door. There were also stories circulated before the bombing arguing that Qaddafi was a transvestite. He was feminized, because we have to feminize our enemies before we fuck them. In the late 70s and early 80s during hostilities with Iran, there were rumors, again probably circulated by the CIA, that the Ayatollah Khomeni was a homosexual pedophile. It does seem to me as if the energies that people in a natural world put into sex and procreation are being perverted into this dreadful…I don’t know, antimatter sex

The entire discussion is a complex one. It’s one we need to have. We also need to ensure the safety of children while ensuring civil liberties are not encroached. This isn’t going to happen by scare tactics, censorship and blustering on about ‘best brains; as if technology can solve the problems of society that the very system endorsed by Cameron himself has helped cause. How can you reconcile a crusade against violent porn, or indeed, porn in general and at the same time defend the right for Page 3 to exist unless consumers don’t want it anymore unless you’re a total hypocrite?

You don’t need to answer that question…

The Rise and Fall of the Glasgow Comics Art Convention part three

Part one. Part two.

And here we are finally arriving at 1994 and things are all a bit odd, so stick with me as there’s a bit of background needed for this one.

I’m in another bit of a limbo situation after coming back to Leicester from working in Bristol for a bit, but I was still helping the lads out at London comic marts and it was at one on Sunday the 6th of February 1994 that Chris (one of the two owners of Comics and CD’s along with Marr for those who haven’t kept up) broke it to me that we’d be doing that year’s Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) next month & do I want to work it? Obviously the answer was yes, so I remember jumping back onto the bus back to Leicester to head to the legendary Pump & tap for what was my birthday drinking session. See, that’s why I remembered the date perfectly!, but back to the Pump and Tap..

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As it was a Sunday I wasn’t expecting a lot of people, but was nicely surprised by the turnout, but the most impressive thing that Amanda had turned up out of the blue. Now I’ll go into the full tale of Amanda and myself another time, but I’d admired her from afar for bloody months, if not years until one night I was in another Leicester pub (the late lamented Magazine) with my then landlady Kate for a drink and her and Kate got chatting while I was in the loo. I joined in the chat, discovered we got on like the proverbial house on fire and invited her down to the Pump for my birthday, which she did. As said, I’ll tell the full story of us another time but to cut things short we started seeing each other from the night of my birthday.

Groovy.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’d asked Amanda if she wanted to come with me to Glasgow, which she resoundingly said yes, but as we were both relatively skint I couldn’t afford the train, so got the bus, though she got travelsick in cars, so forked out for a train. This meant we had the situation where I left first to go to Glasgow, but Amanda would pull into Glasgow hours before me, so after a phone call to Andy Sweeney (one of the AKA crowd I’ve mentioned often before) I’d left it so that Andy would meet Amanda at Central Station (seeing as she had red dreads and piercings before such things became fashionable, she would have been easy to spot) and decant to a pub where I’d eventually join him. I’d also asked him if we could crash somewhere which he said he’d sort out.

With this all planned I started my long and painful bus journey to Glasgow on a clear spring day, while Amanda jumped her train to Glasgow, and in these pre-mobile days all we had was trust in people’s abilities so as my bus pulled off the motorway into Glasgow I hoped everything was alright. I hadn’t anything to worry about as Andy had excelled himself and rescued Amanda from the throngs of Central Station, but placed her in the care of Bridget, his partner of the time, and her sister Magz and her partner, Gary Erskine and few others. Andy had managed to get us a place to crash at Gary’s flat for the first few days, then the rest of the week or so we were there at Bridget’s which meant a flit across Glasgow but it made sense in retrospect as Gary lives a long way from where the con was being held, and Bridget was much nearer.

The plan for the first few days was to show Amanda the sights of Glasgow and then on the Friday, meet up with Marr and Neil (one of the remaining Comics and CD’s staff) at the Central Hotel (where Marr and myself had stayed two years earlier) on Friday to help unload and set up for the weekend. I’d also brought up a load of comics of my own to sell and I had a feeling Amanda and myself would run out of cash which turned out to be perfectly correct, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first few days were great as I showed Amanda around Glasgow, even taking her to Maryhill to show her where I came from which is the only time I’ve done that with a girlfriend. She also had to get used to Glasgow’s climate which at the best of times is erratic but in spring it’s all over the place so she got sun, snow, rain and hail all in the same few hours but walking through Kelvingrove Park in the snow was, and is a wonderful sight to behold.

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In the evening we met up with Gary and Magz before heading back to their flat to crash as the next day we had to flit over to Bridget’s flat. This is when Amanda had forgotten to take her medication to had a wee scare which wasn’t helped by both of us being horribly drunk, but I managed to calm her down the next morning and we packed up our stuff from Gary’s flat and headed off to meet Bridget and crash at hers for the remainder or our stay in Glasgow. That was after another day going round the city, this time in the city centre where we got wolf whistled by builders near Glasgow Green for snogging. To this day this is the only time I’ve been whistled at by a builder.

Money was starting to get tight as we were in the pub or eating out or going around the city like crazed loons, but I’d told Amanda I’d make a mint off the comics I brought and not to worry and I suppose she had faith in me, so she went along for the ride. As the Friday dawned I left Amanda with Andy at AKA as I met Marr and Neil at the Central to escort them to the venue which was a hotel which is now a Jury’s on Jamaica Street, so we could unload and set up which was a bit of a task, but the three of us did it, and I went back to pick up Amanda from the pub she, Andy, Bridget, etc were in so she could meet Marr and Neil and get ready for the weekend, and of course drink more beer. She later said when we got back to Leicester that she’d never drank as much in her life up til then, and to be honest, it was a pretty hardcore week but overwhelmingly fun.

Bridget had kindly let Amanda and myself crash in her bed for the Friday by ourselves while she kipped on her pull-down bed as we’d left the pub early as we (I’d tried to convince Marr that Amanda could help up and she pulled an innocent smile which worked on him)  had to get up early on Saturday morning to finish setting up, plus I had to price up my comics (I’d brought up around 50 or so quality items) but Amanda brought up on the way back from the pub on Friday night she was down to a few quid and I only had a fiver and some change left so I really needed to sell some comics on the Saturday (we’d not get paid from Marr til the Sunday assuming we made our money back) and get us some cash in our pockets for the Saturday party at the convention hotel which is normally a wonderful affair.

I remember giving her my last few quid to get everyone some teas and coffees and then pricing my comics up in the hope they’d sell ASAP. As we were setting up Neil pointed out that Amanda was getting some attention from the other dealers, then I remembered that I’d brought a woman into the lion’s den and a female at a comic convention was rare back then. but one behind the dealers tables was virtually unheard of at the time. This however, gave us an advantage as once the doors opened and the fanboys poured in we noticed the fanboys would hang around our tables trying to cop a look of Amanda which saw Marr and myself drag Amanda into a serving position right in the middle of our huge amount of tables while I took my position at the end where my own comics were plastered on the wall display.

The con was busy, very very busy. In fact it was the busiest GLASCAC out of the three I attended, and like 1992 we were coining it, not to mention pissing off Glasgow dealers who were overpriced but pissed off at us selling stuff for cheap and in bulk though again, Pete Root of AKA took advantage of this to clean us out of some titles.I’d also sold a few of my own comics, and got about 30 quid in my pocket, and by midday that 30 quid had grown to 70, and I’d barely touched my pile of comics, so I was frantically replacing one comic I’d sold on the wall with another, and selling that. By one ish I’d hit 100 quid, and I told Amanda how much we’d made so bunged her 30 quid as she wanted to go back up to the West End to go round the bookshops for a couple of hours as the smell of sweaty fanboys was annoying her, and now the rush had died down the rest of us could cope with things.

That isn’t to say she hated being there, she was hanging round the bar with Andy and Bridget, and also she’d made friends with the Bastard Bunny table opposite us who were trying to convince her to do some modelling for their merchandise. More on this later….

The Saturday afternoon moved on and we were having a storming con. We were selling boxes and boxes of stuff which was great as this meant less to load up on the Sunday going back and of course, more cash in the till. Late in the afternoon Amanda came back after being sunburnt and caught in a snowstorm on the same day.

Ah, spring in Glasgow….

Once Amanda returned, I took the opportunity to dive into the bar for a few bevvies and to mingle with people, not to mention take stock of mow much cash I’d made which turned out to be quite a bit. In fact, if I ended up selling everything I had left at even half price I’d end up going home with more money than I came up with, so flush with this knowledge I necked another beer or three and headed back to our tables where Marr and Amanda were merrily chatting away and serving punters. Amanda told me she’d sold another 40 quids worth of my comics, so in that first day we’d made nearly 150 quid. Not bad for a days work!

The day drew to a close which meant heading back to the bar for a few more drinks, before getting something to eat (which considering how skint we were in the morning was an achievement) before heading to the hotel bar for a session. There we mingled with the stars, but it seemed to mainly consist of drinking an awful lot, which by now was taking it’s toll on Amanda who was ready to pass out.

See, this is the thing and the big difference between British and American conventions. In the US it’s all about the day, but here it’s about getting the day over with so you can get into the bar ASAP, and of course, sneak a session in during the day. It’s a hard regime which she wasn’t used to and seeing as Dez Skinn wasn’t going to, errr, let us use his hotel room, we headed back to Bridget’s flat to crash leaving everyone drinking heavily.

The next day was the last day which meant hangovers and the hassle of packing up. We prepared for this by having a wee wander through Glasgow in the early morning  on the way to the con and having a nice wee bit of breakfast by the Clyde, before diving back into the con for the last day.

Surprisingly for a last day it was busy, very busy. It also came as a surprise when I was told that Frank Plowright (the organiser) was thinking of knocking the Glasgow conventions on the head and that the following year was likely to be the last as it was too much stress organising two big conventions a year basically by himself which was and is, an amazing task.

That would set the tone somewhat for the rest of the con which turned into something like the last day of school with people’s trousers being stolen and nearly thrown into the Clyde (only returned after the owner had to pay a tramp two quid for them) , and other pranks galore. Mainly though it involved selling more comics, including selling everything I brought up which meant several hundred quid profit, plus whatever Marr paid me for the weekend.

In the meantime Amanda was still be lured by the Bastard Bunny people to do something for her, so I bought he a spiffy BB woolly hat, and we agreed we’d do something when we got back to Leicester and get in touch with them to see where we go from there. Before then we had to pack up which we did fairly quickly which meant Marr and Neil could head back to Bristol in good time, and Marr didn’t just pay myself but gave Amanda some cash for helping out which helped make a good week even better for her.

I’ve spoken before what the last day at a con feels like, but this was like the best party in the world and a wake at the same time. We didn’t want to leave. Seriously. If Bridget or Andy or anyone in Glasgow had said ‘stay here and leave your lives in Leicester behind’ we would have, and we actually discussed doing something like that, albeit drunkenly. But we didn’t so we just had a few drinks on the last night, before leaving early as we were heading back to Leicester the next day, which was probably for the best as we were getting too cosy in Bridget’s flat (plus we wanted our bed/s), so we said our farewells and slinked off because we didn’t want a big farewell, and we were getting a bit teary.

Next morning Amanda saw me off at the bus station as she was get the train back, which gave her an hour or so to say her farewells to Glasgow before getting the train which would see her arrive before me. We’d agreed to stay at our separate homes the night we got back but I swung by where she lived and that agreement went out the window.

As for GLASCAC, the 1995 con was the last one. I didn’t go, but I would return to Glasgow for that summer’s T in the Park festival, but Glasgow would be without a big comic convention for some time, but with the passing of GLASCAC a bit of comic history passed on. It’s not often spoken about now among the cosplay and nerd love of modern conventions, not to mention the fact most cons now do seem to be tied up with things outside comics which is a bit problematic for me, but then I’m old school. As far as I know this series of blogs are the only history of GLASCAC knocking around the net and that’s a shame so if anyone stumbles across these blogs who do want to add something, then feel free. I’d love it.

And oh, Amanda and myself did a series of pictures with her modelling the Bastard Bunny hat which means I fulfil the promise I made a time ago to explain the following picture….

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There’s more pictures I could put up but I love that one most of all. It’s just fun and we had a great day doing those pictures. Pity we didn’t get round to sending them to Bastard Bunny for a variety of reasons but it felt like an opportunity lost, but then again much of that time felt like an opportunity lost….

The Rise and Fall of the Glasgow Comic Art Convention part two

Last time I recounted the tale of the first Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) and what I remember of it. This time round I’m going to tell what I remember of GLASCAC in 1992.

The End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s not strictly true. I do remember some things……

In 1992 I was living in Nottingham and was half in/half out of the comics scene. It was all a bit of a limbo time for me as the reason why I moved to Nottingham from Leicester is far too dull to go into here and now, but I was doing alright and still keeping my finger in comics working for the lads in Bristol on and off, which meant the odd trip down to Bristol, as well as regularly doing the Nottingham comic marts, as well as the odd Leicester mart. I was doing some casual work as well on building sites, as well as the odd warehouse job but most of the time I just sat around Nottingham pubs chatting up Goth girls.

So in the spring of 1992, I was told by Chris (one of the Bristol lads) that we were going to do GLASCAC, and in fact it was going to be Maurice (Marr) doing it alongside myself. Now I knew this meant Marr driving the van I’d nicknamed The Blue Slug from Bristol to Nottingham, and I thought, an overnight stay at the house Chris’s company (Chris also worked in Nottingham for a large clothing company) had for him to stay during the week. Nope, Marr drove from Bristol to Nottingham where he picked me up and then we hit the road to Glasgow in a giant zig-zag across the UK.  This was all on the Friday morning, so by the time Marr picked me up in Nottingham in the morning, he’d been on the road for hours already.

Poor sod!

But once we were on the road things became a bit jolly as we laughed and gossiped all the way to Glasgow, and I know I’ve made this point in my blogs before, but this really is a wonderful country to drive though once you get out the cities. We did however have to get to Glasgow by 5pm as John McShane of AKA had said he’d sort out a hotel room for us both. Trusting that he’d get things right this time, all we had to go was drag the Blue Slug up to Glasgow in time. As it worked out we did quite amazing time, as pulled into Glasgow just as rush hour was kicking off. Marr spent this part of the trip following my directions and commenting on the similarities between Bristol and Glasgow which I’d not noticed before.

Sadly we got undone by Glasgow’s then new one-way system which meant struggling to drag the Blue Slug 20 yards down a street to AKA. After some help from a policeman we eventually drove all the way round the city centre to get to where we needed to be and speak to John to find out exactly where he’d booked us into. Amazingly, John had booked us into the Central Hotel and in a twin room, not a double room, and a hotel that held a lot of history for me.

Marr and myself found a secure carpark, parked up the Slug, checked in and promptly stuffed our faces before getting ready to go out to a pre-con drinking session. This is where things go sketchy through a mix of tiredness and alcohol, mainly alcohol though, but even though Marr was pretty much dead on his feet we found our way to the bar where this session was planned and it ended up being some dreadful neon clad nightmare of a bar, and I’m not sure exactly who was there but I do remember Andy Sweeney of AKA with his then partner Bridget, her sister Magz who was seeing Gary Erskine and a load of people who I didn’t really know as they’d been former AKA customers who graduated to being part of the inner circle after I’d long left. Also there was a chap named Doug who I’ve mentioned before but in the future from a 1992 perspective if you know what I mean?

Marr stayed for a couple of drinks that night before going back to the hotel for a much needed kip, but I sadly didn’t and chose to drink like a bastard til the wee small hours. The next morning I remember regaining conciousness as Marr was heading down for breakfast. Somehow I pulled myself out of bed, dragged on some clothes and crawled downstairs for some breakfast, and seeing as it was a buffet breakfast, I filled up on all the square sausage and bacon I could before going back to the room and throwing it all up and feeling much better. Of course I came back down for more…

The Saturday morning was about setting up so once we’d finished eating breakfast and throwing it up, we drove round to the venue which was a hall in Candleriggs which ended up being the most bloody awful place to hold a convention as it was a nightmare getting the tonne of comics we’d brought into the dealers room, but we struggled and we did and at this point we realised that we were causing a kerfuffle with some of the local dealers who had snuck a look at our stock and were getting very annoyed we were selling things for 50p that they were selling for 10 quid and over. Oh dear. How Sad. Never mind.

Other dealers however saw this as an opportunity, especially Pete Root of AKA who cleaned us out of certain comics, before selling them at a profit to himself and undercutting his competition.  Once the doors were open and the general public came in and we were discovered we made an absolute mint to the point on that first day we’d made back the money for the trip and were in profit.There’s always a nice buzz at the end of the first day of a con as a dealer if you’re counting the empty boxes not just because it means you’ve made money, but also because you don’t have to lug it back into the van on the last day.

That night Marr and myself tagged along with Andy and the others for a meal, before Marr went back for a kip as the next day he faced a horrible drive back, but I went into the night drinking heavily as usual , but I do remember stopping short of being utterly stupid and grabbing a reasonably early night as I didn’t face the loading up.

I did miss some more carnage along the lines of what Alan Davis drew in a convention programme afterwards…

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This incident featured one of the owners of a certain comic shop in Glasgow who shall remain nameless…..

Anyhow, the Sunday came. We carried on doing well. We sold loads of comics, I tried to be nice to Forbidden Planet Glasgow. I drank a few beers and we ended up saying cheerio to everyone before packing up painfully and slowly. Thankfully the Blue Slug was less heaving than coming up but we still faced a trip going back but thanks to some truly mental driving Marr got me back to Nottingham in around five hours before heading back to Bristol and that was the end of that….

Thing was I’d tried to make some plans which all came to nothing. The main one was to get a database of all the independent comic shops in the UK and form a loose alliance along the lines of The Chain With No Name in order to form a powerful group to stop, or at least combat the power of the Forbidden Planet chain. I should have pushed on with that as if it’d worked we’d see a very different marketplace to what it is today.

Hey ho….

I wouldn’t return home to Glasgow until the next GLASCAC Marr and myself worked in 1994. This deserves a blog to itself as eventful isn’t the word for that week or so I was in Glasgow that time…..

The rise and fall of the Glasgow Comics Art Convention-part one

I’ve previously blogged about UKCAC and it’s history through my eyes, but I kept talking about it’s spinoff, the Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) being destined for a separate  blog, so here we go…..

GLASCAC was born initially as part of Glasgow’s European City of Culture celebrations in 1990 and Glasgow  was chosen for this spin off as the city was throwing around money like confetti on anything which would bring people to the city, plus comics were huge at this point and Glasgow was a creative centre for the booming comics scene thanks to the sheer amount of creative talent often championed by AKA Books and Comics in the city.

Frank Plowright, one of the UKCAC organisers, saw a chance to do something in 1990 so he grabbed the opportunity. Unlike most conventions then, and even today, it wasn’t advertised and publicised just to the comics fan but to the wider public not just in the UK, but across Europe and the world as part of the city’s celebrations. In fact I remember seeing it advertised in Tube stations across London from the middle of 1989, and also at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. It got extraordinary coverage nearly a year before it happened in spring 1990, and to this day I’ve never seen any mart or convention in the UK get the sort of coverage that first GLASCAC did.

At the time I was still working for Neptune Distribution so the plan was to do a huge launch of the colour version of St. Swithin’s Day by Grant Morrison and Paul Grist, as well as generally pushing Trident Comics and try to sweeten up our existing customers and take the piss from those who thought we were stirring things, which as I’ve outlined before, we were.

The convention was to be held in Glasgow’s City Chambers which is to this date the most impressive, if somewhat impracticable, venue for a comic convention I’ve ever been to but it was an amazing venue with it’s gilded halls and marble staircases. Thankfully all we had were a dozen of so boxes of Trident Comics titles which we shipped to AKA who kindly stored them for us before we all made our way up from Leicester, though myself, and another lad Nigel, had to first do the regular Friday shipment of comics even though Geoff (the MD) had left for Glasgow from East Midlands airport early on the Friday morning.

This meant being driven to London, doing the shipment and then hopefully having it done in time for the teatime flight to Glasgow from Heathrow. A long day was ahead, but on what was a lovely spring day we went from Leicester to Heathrow, where we picked up the shipment of that weeks’ comics, drove back to where our warehouse (by warehouse I really mean a large room) was in Staines where we sorted out the shipment and to get it out on time so Nigel and myself could get our flight, we had to drive to the ANC depot by Heathrow Airport to drop it off by hand before being driven to the correct terminal at Heathrow and unceremoniously dumped at the entrance where we discovered we had plenty of time to get ready for our flight.

This is where I point out that flying around inside the UK at this time wasn’t as common as it is today, so as we piled into the BA departure lounge we ended up mingling with various politicians, musicians and businessmen who eyed us both with  suspicion as we looked very out of place as we were still in our work clothes which were covered in dirt and muck. Both Nigel and myself dived into the very plush toilets in the lounge to change before emerging like new men ready for the weekend ahead, though I’d decided to stay on a few days longer than everyone else to prolong thing as I hate farewells and the final day of events like this.

During the flight Nigel and myself decided to pose as pop stars going to Glasgow to play a gig, so we came up with the name The Stray Toasters after the comic of the same name just to take the piss out of some of the businessmen sitting around us who were sneering at us under their breaths. Thankfully for everyone the flight was less than an hour and we landed at Glasgow Airport in the early evening, which left us only the task of getting to our hotel  Now we weren’t staying at the Copthorne Hotel which was the convention hotel where Geoff and two of the marketing team, Viv and Adam, plus Martin Skidmore (editor of Trident Comics) were staying. No, we were slumming it at the nearby & cheaper Central Hotel which at that time had become just a bit shabby, but I liked the place and so did Nigel so we got into Glasgow city centre, made our way to the Central, checked in and found our rooms where we both changed to get ready to meet up with Geoff and the others at the Copthorne. This also meant Nigel got his first experience of Glasgow city centre which shouldn’t have come as a huge shock seeing as he was a Geordie used to going out in Newcastle, but it was fun in that short walk between hotels.

I need to also point out that in these pre-mobile days things had to be arranged just by saying you’d be in a place at a time while hoping everyone else stuck to their part of the arrangement. That’s easier said than done but it turned out that when we met up with Geoff and the others, they’d had a perfectly nice day in Glasgow while we’d be grafting like wankers in London and dashing around.

Anyhow, the first night in the hotel was about pressing the flesh and saying hello, not to mention drinking heavily. In fact most people were drinking heavily. Very heavily. Amazingly heavily. I remember drinking a lot with John Wagner who we’d gotten on-board for Toxic!, our competition to 2000AD which was due to come out in 1991. I remember seeing Nigel staggering around and at some point early in the morning deciding to beat a discrete retreat and pulling Nigel back to the Central as we needed to crash as we were due up early the next day. We did leave behind us a night of carnage as Alan Davis noted in a cartoon he did for the next UKCAC programme.

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I won’t name the person Davis references, but at the time they thought they were a huge name in the industry, and yes, this actually happened.

Moving on…

Getting up early on the Saturday was painful, but I did it, staggered to get breakfast where I found a very peaky looking Nigel turning into a huge breakfast which was a great idea. After this we’d arranged for Nigel and myself to go to AKA, pick up our boxes (yes, we did all the bloody graft) then head to the City Chambers to set up. We’d been positioned next to where John Wagner and Alan Grant were selling and signing copies of The Bogie Man and their associated memorabilia, and near AKA, but far away from Forbidden Planet or anything Titan related.

It was also the weekend where a huge Poll Tax demo was scheduled outside in George Square to coincide with one being held in London. We didn’t know this til it actually started but it gave Geoff an excuse to nip outside with me to sell copies of St. Swithin’s Day as an ‘anti-Thatcher’ comic to protesters who helped make the issue effectively sell out in it’s first weekend.

In fact the entire convention was a roaring success. Numbers through the door were huge, and not just comics people and the same old faces, but new people and kids who were there for the fun of it. That first day was simply amazing and I remember sitting with John Wagner laughing at how well the thing was going.

That night, Geoff had arranged to go out for a meal with John McShane, Pete Root and the rest of the senior AKA crowd in order to wine and dine them, but I couldn’t be bothered so I tagged along with Andy Sweeney who was part of the new AKA group who’d replaced me when I moved from Glasgow a few years earlier. I think Nigel tagged along too as we went for a meal, got a bit pissed and headed back to the Copthorne for the Saturday evening’s drinking where I challenged Pete Root to a Neptune Vs. AKA football match on the Sunday morning.

That evening was fun. Lots of good banter and in fact much more relaxed and fun than the London based UKCAC due to the lack of media whores (who shall remain nameless) trying to annoy people to get a break into comics. It was just a laugh!

Next morning I got up early, changed into trainers, etc for the footy match, and went to the City Chambers to meet Martin Skidmore and the rest of the AKA lot to walk down to Glasgow Green for our kickabout. Thing was the AKA crowd were hanging apart from a few and Martin had tried to wake up Geoff and VIv but she wasn’t answering and Geoff had been a wee bit sheepish when Martin had tried to get him out his hotel room. I remember sitting on those marble steps of the City Chambers with Martin going ‘he’s not shagging her is he?’ before we both laughed it off and headed back to our respective hotels to get change and come back to mock John McShane’s immense hangover.

The last day also went amazingly well. Frank walked around looking happy as it’d went amazing well, however we also awoke to the Sunday papers which told the story of the riots in London the previous day which concerned a lot of people as they were heading back to London that night, or early on Monday morning. I wasn’t due back until Wednesday though as I’d arranged to meet my then girlfriend of sort in London on Wednesday afternoon before heading back to Leicester at the weekend after.

The convention drew to a close with the overwhelming response being positive. Neptune had picked up some extra business. Trident had sold itself well, and we’d sold pretty much everything we brought with us. I even drunkenly abused some FP staff which was fun. It was a success but the main thing people wanted to know was would Frank do another, which he said he would but that would mean organising two big events in a year pretty much by himself.

As the Sunday progressed the convention thinned out as people left and dealers packed up to leave. Geoff and the others from work were heading back to Leicester that night so they left, while Nigel was going back to London that night as well, so I was all on my tod and now I was officially not representing the company I decided to have a serious drinking session with whomever was left. I’d went out with Andy and the bits and bobs of AKA people who were still standing, and as we walked through George Square on a stunning spring evening all you could smell were the flowers blooming. It was beautiful and then we all dived into a pint glass for the next few hours.

I woke up back in my room at the Central feeling awful, but I didn’t need to work, so I stumbled down to get breakfast, filled my plate and had a thoroughly nice day chilling out in Glasgow, though when I did catch the news about London I was starting to become concerned as it was looking like a warzone.

Tuesday was supposed to be sorting a few family things out, but I wisely thought against it and instead spent the day in Kelvingrove Park sitting around reading comics before heading back into the centre to have a final drink with the AKA crowd before heading back to London the next day.

I painfully checked out of the Central the next day, headed to Glasgow Airport with a stinking hangover, and got on my flight to Heathrow where the majority of conversation in the departure lounge was about the riots in London over the weekend. As we landed I thought I’d go into central London first before heading up to Camden to meet my girlfriend. this was mainly to see whether central London had been levelled but it hadn’t but the damage was still visible and the effects of that day ended up spelling the end of a Prime Minister, but there was something eerie about walking though a half empty London (people were avoiding the centre) on a weekday. Eventually I headed up to Camden but that’s another story….

GLASCAC would indeed return the following year, but I wouldn’t be there for a variety of reasons and wouldn’t actually return to the convention til 1992, and in fact I’d only go back to Glasgow once in that time which was for Andy Hope’s wedding later in 1990. The story of the 1992 GLASCAC and beyond is coming up in the next part so do please come back for that….

That Horrible Feeling You Get When You Know It’s All Over

It’s the last day of T in the Park today, and that means they’ll be thousands of people experiencing the strange melancholy you get at a festival on the last day when you know it’s coming to an end. It’s not just festivals, but any big event and it’s somewhat different to being on holiday, though it’s a cousin of that melancholy you get on the last day of a holiday.

At a festival you’re busy doing things and trying to plan your day as you go on. If the weather’s awful, you struggle against the conditions to wring everything you can out of it, but you know you can’t put anything off til tomorrow because there’s no tomorrow. It’s over and to rub in the fact it’s over you can refer back to your programme and see all the stuff you missed or were putting off til the next day but now you can’t because it’s coming to an end.

Two weeks ago I was in a field in Somerset having a ball. Those fields were rammed. This is them now…

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There’s a few signs that over 200,000 people were there two weeks ago. The skin is still up on the Pyramid Stage, and there’s the roads and paths, but otherwise it just looks like a field in summertime. It’s passed and gone.

I used to get the same feeling on the last day of a comic convention I was working. It’s a different feeling when you know your last day is going to be often the day when you make your money. You can get a feeling of that in this clip from Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope featuring Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics. I’m going to go into more detail about this sort of thing at conventions another time though…

There’s a feeling of loss and you suddenly realise you’re not living in the moment not to mention the reality of packing up and going home kicks in and I hate that as you can see here….

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Still, you treasure the fun you had but milking the last day of all drops of joy is what I’ve tried to do but it still doesn’t stop the feeling that’s you’ve missed so much, and then as I’ve said, looking at your programme and realising you have.

Ah well.

So even though I feel T in the Park has become a horrible corporate thing (it always was really), I feel a little bit for those people walking around today who suddenly have the dread melancholy hit them around about now as they realise it’s all going to end and all that stuff they were going to do at the festival tomorrow isn’t going to happen. It’s coming to an end and you can’t stop it, no matter how much you try.

Depressing isn’t it?

All good things…. The tale of Glastonbury 2000

Last time round I went through the fun and frolics of Glastonbury in 1999. 

In a move which should surprise nobody used to the Gregorian Calender , this takes us kicking and screaming into the new millennium with my tale of Glastonbury 2000, which still sounds like the sort of 70’s SF film featuring Sean Connery in a shexy red thong.

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Anyhow, 2000 was the festival’s 30th anniversary, the first of the new millennium, the first with the new Pyramid Stage, the first without Jean Eavis’s influence hanging over it (although Jean died before the 1999 festival, it still felt like she was a part of that year’s festival), and the first year where it started to feel like the festival had moved out of alternative culture and started becoming very much part of the mainstream thanks to the involvement of the BBC, the Guardian and it’s other sponsorship deals.

As for me, I was no longer in Leicester, but now on my way back to Bristol after seven years to live again thanks to my then girlfriend Tash, having sneakily got herself a job in Bristol just after that year’s Comics Festival. I’d even managed by sheer luck to get myself a job at BT in their Customer Options department after undergoing the first real, proper interview for a full time job I’d had in my 33 years. Prior to that I got jobs through contacts or being at the right place at the right time, plus I’d never worked in an office before so this was something new and exciting for me! It also meant an end to the two years of being settled and secure.

That excitement and security didn’t last long but moving on…

Thing is the move from Leicester to Bristol could only happen for a variety of reasons (mainly due to Tash having a very fixed start date) the week before Glastonbury, and I didn’t start at BT til the week after, so we worked out between us that Tash would pack in Leicester, and I would unpack in Bristol as I was sitting around doing nowt for a week. This was fine and suited me perfectly, but firstly I had to get some cash together, so I managed to raise about a grand in a week through some very dodgy deals that didn’t involve drugs but let’s say they didn’t involve drugs or selling parts of my body…

Which brings us to the big move. The Saturday before Glastonbury. On what ended up being the hottest day of the year. We did it though, and it wasn’t too traumatic but what was glorious was piling down the M5 with Leicester turning into a distant memory in the background and driving into a convoy of trucks going to Glastonbury. I have to admit to being a bit teary as the emotion of this huge move kicked in tempered by this magnificent site of dozens of vans, cars and trucks driving to a field in Somerset…

I’d arranged to camp with Denise and her friends again after the success of 1999, and again they were in Big Ground but this year we all had mobiles! I had this piece of technology..

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I felt I was in the space age and wondered where my bloody jetpack was.

Anyhow, the fact we had mobiles didn’t negate the fact they actually didn’t really work in a big field with little coverage with 200,000 other people trying to get a signal, so we arranged to meet at the same place on the Thursday night. Tash couldn’t come down til Friday due to work, but I was happy going down with the tent, beer, etc to set things up.

On the Thursday I woke up. Went to Clifton Down shopping centre (did I mention we got a flat in Clifton which felt like the pair of us had gatecrashed a party but it was still Clifton when it was cool and not full of wankers and students), bought a load of beer, and headed to Temple Meads station to get the train down as I’d never taken the train, and let me tell you something else, I never will again.

Temple Meads is a hellish place at the best of times, but when tens of thousands of extra passengers are passing through it’s fucking shite. I did however eventually barge through the crowds to get the train to Castle Carey (the nearest station to the festival), and actually had a nice journey down with two Irish lads who allowed me to share their whiskey, while I let them partake of the Remy Martin I had. It was a hellish, but tolerable journey until we arrived at the station to find we then had to get on a bus to the site. As I waited for the bus, I contacted Doug (a friend from the world of comics fandom) who was also at the festival where he was as I’d invited his crowd to camp with us but they wanted to pitch near the Other Stage to get a prime spot for Nine Inch Nails who were headlining the Friday night. He was onsite already and warning me by text there was rain on the way.

Joy.

Eventually the bus chugged into the site and spewed it’s passengers out to find their way. At this point I noticed that there was an awful, awful, awful lot of people, but I wrote it off as being peak time for when people turn up and struggled my way through the site up to Big Ground in an attempt to find Denise. Problem was the site really was crammed full of people as as it was now getting dark due to the forthcoming rain Doug had warned me about, I could see the lights of cars waiting to get in and it went for miles and miles and miles and miles….

I struggled to the top of Big Ground to see that they’d changed things round from the previous year and the kids field had taken up all the space behind the hedge where we were the previous year, so I stood there in a field, in the rain, with hundreds of people around me looking hopelessly for Denise and her crowd with little or no hope of finding them as I couldn’t get a signal on my mobile.

Then I decided to shout her name loudly (I am very loud) and to my instant surprise, this voice from less than a few feet away shouted my name back! I’d somehow managed to literally trip over her tent, in the twilight while it was raining. I have no idea how, but I dived in her tent while it was raining, and cracked open the first of many beers.

As soon as the rain stopped Denise and her boyfriend kindly helped me put up my tent and then we all settled into the night with the view of the new Pyramid Stage in the near distance being actually quite bloody impressive..

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Thursday night was a drunken but fun affair and early in Friday morning I decided to crash out as there was a lot I wanted to do as I realised I’d be at Glastonbury by myself for the first time, well, ever, so I wanted to go off and do my own thing for a morning until Tash turned up in the afternoon.

Which i did, but I noticed a few things. One everyone was hyped as David Bowie was headlining on the Sunday. The other it was very warm and humid. The third was there was so many people everywhere. Everyone was crammed on top of everyone else.

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On one of the bridges on the farm there was a crush. A very dangerous crush that made me and several others around me mouth ‘this is like Hillsborough‘ at each other, but thankfully I managed to pull myself out of the crowd (I was still lithe and fit in those days!) and jump over several people while trying to pull people out of the crush. Thankfully a couple of policemen managed to sort things out and introduce some crowd control but it was scary. It’s also a story I heard when I returned to our camp from some of the others who were also stuck in crushes around the site. Basically the site was full and overflowing and there was still more and more and more people coming in whether they had a ticket or not.

As I sat there chatting away I forgot about Tash turning up and as I quickly pulled out my impressive piece of mobile technology, saw a text from her that she was at the bus station onsite and where the fuck was I? Well normally from where we were camping to the station it would have taken 20 minutes but as I tried to run across the site I realised it took me 20 minutes just to get to the other field, and the station was ages away yet so I went to pull out my phone when I realised it was gone. Some bugger had pocketed it in the crush. I checked my wallet and it was still there, but the phone was gone and now I was hitting a panic as I hoped Tash wouldn’t wander too far from the station. As i ran up the station eventually I realised she wasn’t there as the crowds still pouring in on Friday afternoon were ridiculous. Then I remembered I texted her that Doug was camped by the Other Stage, and that wasn’t too far from the station as long as I could get through the tens of thousands of people and remember vaguely where Doug said he might, possibly, could be at the Other Stage.

So I ran down the hill for about 200 yards before hitting a wall of people and shuffled slowly to the Other Stage and it was now getting into late evening, and any chance I had of finding Tash, or Doug in the dark was a million to one they said….

Then somehow in the darkening field I stumbled across not just Tash, but Doug. He’d bumped into her as she looked for me & him and the pair of them were looking for me as they’d tried calling me and couldn’t get through.

I was a lucky, lucky, lucky bastard. To this day I have no idea how I met them in the crowds.

Anyhow, after taking my deserved bollocking from Tash, we headed back to Doug’s camp as Tash had stuck her bag there, plus Nine Inch Nails were coming on, plus Doug’s camp had loads and loads of beer so we headed to it and it was indeed in a great location to view the stage. It was a great show and I say this as someone who isn’t a fan, but as we hung around I realised there really was too many people everywhere. Tash noticed this on the walk from Doug’s camp to Big Ground that the crowds were much, much larger compared to 1999 and she was right.

We got back to our camp well after 2am but people were still up, including Denise who when told of my massive fuck up also dished out a deserved bollocking but was astonishingly impressed at my finding Tash in the crowds as she and her boyfriend had also been stuck in crowds.

Without driving home the point, Glastonbury 2000 was overcrowded like nothing I’d ever seen, and I’ve been to Scotland-England games at the old Wembley and Hampden, illegal raves in Warwickshire and round the M25 and free festivals in Nottingham and London. I was used to crowds but this was dangerous in places, but hey, it must be ok as nobody official said anything.

The next morning I had to go up to the police station to report my phone’s theft which was up by the farm house which wasn’t too far from where we were camping. The other thing about where we were camping was as it was quite high up Big Ground it was pretty well spaced out, but then again that could have something to do with the toilet tent the girls had to sort out as getting to the loo for girls was a nightmare and evolution hadn’t given the the joys of a penis.

I went up to the police, waited about an hour with a hangover kicking in just as the sun started beating down on me and spoke to a nice officer who took my details, gave me my crime number for the insurance and I mentioned the crowds to which she said ‘yes, we know. The Site’s got too many people on it but we can’t stop people jumping fences as we’re overstretched’. With that snippet of information I went back to camp where the girls were tidying up from the night before, but it hardly came as a surprise for anyone.

Tash and myself left the others shortly afterwards as we’d arranged to meet Doug and hang out with him for the day, and we had a totally fun day as well wandering round the site, chatting, drinking and eventually, bizarrely as we all hated them, enjoying Travis who headlined the Pyramid on the Saturday night. After that we chilled and people watched which used to be a great source of fun at the festival, but eventually we said cheerio to Doug and headed back to camp to sit up til late talking bollocks with everyone else. Tash sadly had to go back on Sunday afternoon as work was calling, so it was an early rise, followed by a few hours chilling and then a slow wander through the crowds to see Tash safely on the bus (having now learned my lesson)  and then I realised it was now all about Bowie!

Problem was there was nothing worth watching on the Pyramid stage beforehand, the crowds were too bloody heavy to get through and there was a load of beer back at my tent so back to the camp I went to chill in preparation for Bowie. Thing was the others had enough of fighting through crowds, so I went down early with the last of my beer and my last tenner (these were the days when cash machines onsite were impossible things so you brought what cash you needed in your pocket) in readiness for Bowie.

Now I’d loved Bowie since a child. The first single I bought with my own pocket money was Life on Mars, and Bowie was the first musical act I loved. I had seen Bowie in Manchester during the Glass Spider tour and it was crushingly disappointing. I also saw him in Tin Machine and it was crushingly disappointing. This had to be good or else!

So with beers in hand and with anticipation at the maximum, I waited in the rapidly darkening evening for Bowie to come on…and when he did it was immense

In retrospect it probably was a weird set list. Some of the arrangements were a bit off, and Bowie’s voice was strained due to him recovering from being ill shortly before the festival but it did not bloody matter there and then. The entire thing was magnificent and my memory of the gig is looking round at this enormous biker next to me who was blubbing like a child during Life on Mars, and that started me off and then a few more blokes near us did the same and the field seemed to be full of 30-60 something men weeping at the simply brilliant gig Bowie was putting on.

Glastonbury moments only exist if you live in that moment and we all lived in that perfect few hours as Bowie played his heart out. Utter bliss.

Walking back from that set was a blur. I remember spending the last of my money on some cider as it was cheap and sat down to take it all in. The last few weeks had been a blur and it all dawned on me suddenly my life was turned upside down and things were uncertain and foggy and I’d just seen one of the greatest, most meaningful things in my life. I was also quite drunk and high on half an E which may have also contributed to this. Whatever reason it hit me, it hit me so I went for a very long walk round the festival just chatting to people to clear my system out . Eventually I went back to camp to only find Denise still up and we chatted for a bit before crashing as the next day was Monday and reality was returning.

In the morning I got up, packed up my tent, said my farewells and headed back for the bus to Castle Carey so I could get the train back to Bristol. I was still an emotional mess, mainly because of Bowie’s set,  but because everything dawned on me. I also had some part of me that realised that the Glastonbury I knew had to change because demand had outstripped supply, plus all the wonderful and weird people were being swamped by a new type of festival goer who were effectively tourists and didn’t care much for music, politics, or anything the festival really stood for. For them it was another notch on things to do as Glastonbury was now a part of the establishment.

See, the thing is while the festival supported CND and stood against the Tory government it was outside the establishment. When it was televised on Channel 4 it was still edgy and alternative because that was the image and demographic of the channel. On the BBC it was acceptable, and when it vaguely supported the new Labour government as well as supporting worthy charities like Greenpeace, it didn’t mean it took an anti-establishment stance. In fact 2000 probably saw the start of the festival as an establishment fixture, but nobody quite knew it yet as the ramifications of the 2000 festival were still to be felt.

The festival was overcrowded. Figures range from 200,000 onsite to half a million. I’m inclined to go to the higher end of the scale, if not more. The site’s infrastructure nearly collapsed and the constant sea of people were astonishing, so some drastic measures had to be done but those measures wouldn’t be known for a while but for the festival to continue something had to be done.

Luckily 2001 was a fallow year, so the festival was to take a year off to regroup and plan for the 2002 festival, but in the meantime the festival found communities dedicated to Glastonbury spring up online which again helped spread the myth of the festival to people. Both good and bad came from Glastonbury’s online communities, some sites were better than others and some tried their best to milk the festival for all it was worth while alienating parts of the growing community.

Glastonbury was now a business. It was now part of the establishment. But it wasn’t quite formed into what it is now. That would take a few more years yet, and the announcement of the Superfence which was to circle the 2002 festival made people think this was just another scare tactic as the festival constantly used to boast about impenetrable fences and this was just something to frighten people off.

Oh how wrong people would be…..

That’s a story for another time though. I left Glastonbury in 2000 in a tired and emotional state, and as it turned out the next two years would be hardly what i hoped leaving Worthy Farm that June morning. Things really were coming to a close in more ways than one.

Next time, the 2002 festival and the messy run up to it….