What I thought of Glasgow Comic Con 2018

Yesterday I attended the eighth Glasgow Comic Con (GCC) as a punter, not a dealer so I was able to soak up the atmosphere more than usual, and the atmosphere this year was 30c heat which for Glasgow is unusual to say the least. I primarily went to catch up with friends but I also wanted to see if there was any Kirby, Wally Wood or EC stuff I could pick up for reasonable prices and amazingly, I managed to pick up a few bits of Kirby cheapish.

As for the con, GCC is based upon the old school style of comics con where comics are at the fore, with a dash of cosplay. It also managed to bring in young kids, as well as the Millennial audience, though I will say it was somewhat lacking on the programme for us older folk. I have to say though the heat was sometimes too much, and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow isn’t a good venue for this sort of event, especially if you’re disabled and have to spend time waiting for lifts so you could meet friends in the cafe or the main convention floor. The organisers did stick up signs saying that could people respect the lift is there for folk who can’t climb the large amount of stairs but too often was the lift held up with people who just couldn’t be arsed walking down stairs.

This brings me to the biggest problem with the GCC. It’s clear too big for a venue which isn’t fit for purpose for an event like this and I’ve been in worse venues over the thousands of cons I’ve been to, but this wasn’t fully fit for purpose. Rooms were often too crowded and corridors crammed with people which meant cosplayers standing there being photographed caused bottlenecks. The Royal Concert Hall is a fantastic venue and the GCC is a good event, but they don’t fit each other though the panel room was lovely and cool.

This is during the panel where The Punisher gets a Queer Eye makeover, and indeed throughout the day this corner provided an oasis of cool and calm to watch the days panels.

I had a few wanders round the self-published/small press tables and there was some splendid stuff there, with the comic Escape From Coatbridge raising a few laughs for the title alone, but nothing really stood out spectacularly I am glad to see the small press scene in Glasgow to be as large as it is.

If I’d not forgotten my drugs (suffering from chronic pain isn’t fun in this weather) I’d have probably stayed on but as the day wore on all the people left were the cosplayers, and some of the guests tables were looking barren of visitors which considering there were people of the calibre of Ian Kennedy and Leila Abdelazaq was a pity.

Glasgow can accommodate a proper comics convention of the type we used to organize back in the day,  however GCC needs to work out whether to stay a one-day event crammed into a venue that doesn’t work for it or see if there’s somewhere in Glasgow it can fit into, and even whether it expands into a second day but it does need to grow, develop itself so it can set itself aside easily from the MCM con or the one-day events held across the West of Scotland. I’d like to see it develop.

On my way home the con did throw up one more treat.

That’ll be Pikachu getting the bus home to Coatbridge I assume.

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Selling comics in the Cosplay era

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog about the current state of the London comic marts.In it I said this:

The convention has replaced it. Marts seem like the analogue version of today’s digital fandom with it’s geek culture that’s a genuine culture adopted by the sort of people twenty years ago would have kicked sand in your face on the beach.  It’s hopelessly lost against the tide of the massive influx of new people coming in to the culture, but for many of these people collecting comics isn’t a hobby. It’s the characters that draws them. The comics are almost an aside.

Today I came across a splendid piece by Anthony Esmond about the Royal National Hotel comic mart that’s part praising but almost eulogy for a dying part of comic collector fandom which is the act of buying comics. I know that sounds funny but as Esmond says if you go to a modern comic convention you’ll see cosplay and memorabilia as far as the eye can see but comics? Pffft, they’re barely represented. Last time I went to a major con outside of Bristol I had to hunt for anyone selling back issues, and when I did finding a dealer that sold stuff to sell rather at guide price was nearly impossible.

I’ve also mentioned in the past about the late Bristol Expo which no seems to be quite dead, but even that tried to copy the template for the modern convention: San Diego. Yet that’s had issues for years with dealers and punters complaining about the masses of cosplay and the lack of people turning up to buy comics, which is sort of what you expect from a comic convention. For those that haven’t been to San Diego or are aware of how much comic dealers feature in the con these days then this video gives you an idea.

As you can see the answer as to how important comic retailers are to San Diego is ‘not an awful lot’. Now imagine these new conventions that have sprung up all over the UK in the last five or six years are a microcosm of Comic Con and you get the picture, which isn’t to say that dealers don’t do the big conventions, they do. But most people go to these shows for the toys, the film promos, and of course, the seemingly endless amount of cosplay which has created a problem in that that for many is the main attraction, not comics.

So the fact a mart like the Royal National still plugs on with minimal advertising in the internet era is amazing. Yes, some of the people that turn up are, errr, to put it mildly not the sort of people you’d like to be stuck in a lift with but the punters there have been going since they were kids. When I last went to this back in May I saw lots of people who are now grey when my earliest memories of them were of wee kids running around earnestly buying comics. Same goes with many of the dealers, though I was amazed by how many traders of vintage ‘erotica’ (porn to you and I) were there though they seem to have filled in the gaps of dealers that have dropped off the face of the Earth or have knocked this mart on the head.

There’s a place for these marts into today’s cosplay age, but there’s also a need for them to reach out however the danger is that if Mike Conroy (the organiser) does start putting on signings and expanding it then the cosplay crowd start falling upon the mart like locusts and before we know it it’s went the way of the Bristol Expo to an untimely demise.I do agree it needs more publicity and the odd special event wouldn’t hurt it one bit but I admire it’s purity as I do any of the last few lingering comic marts across the UK. Even in this internet age nothing beats being faced by boxes of cheap comics, getting stuck in and finding some absolute gems and it’d be a crying shame if this was deemed to be consigned to history.

 

The Problem With Fake Geek Girls

There’s been a lot of chat over the last few years over the problems with fake Geek Girls and how they’re a blight upon comics fandom, and the whole ”Geek” scene. For example the artist Tony Harris made a well thought out and deeply meaningful post on his Facebook last year, and any forum online is full of considered, thoughtful posts on the subject because ultimately girls just don’t get it, and they just aren’t geeky enough are they?

After all, no male fan has ever not known the history of the comics medium. Never. That’s never happened No male fan has ever look vaguely ridiculous while dressing up as a character from a comic, film or telly series. That’s never happened. Ever.No male fan have ever jumped on a bandwagon of something popular. That’s never happened. Ever. No male fan has just blindly followed something because it’s trendy. That’s never happened. It’s only girls who do these things, really, honest,  and that’s why they’re fake!!!

Meanwhile back in the real world…..

The whole ‘Geek Girl’ thing is a simple case of just the sort of old fashioned misogyny that sadly has been in comics since, oooo, I was even born but updated for the 21st century with extra added ignorance and stupidity because even though the internet is the greatest educational resource humanity has ever invented, people are basically fucking idiots.

As said, this has always been something bubbling under the surface in comics in the US at least, while in the UK things were different  in the sense that although we had weekly girls comics, there was a less vicious form of discrimination among readers but the industry itself was hardly free and open but the UK has a long history since 2000AD especially of strong female characters (Judge Anderson, Halo Jones, Purity Brown from Nemesis, numerous strips in the likes of Crisis, Toxic!, etc)  written by the likes of Alan Moore, Pat Mills and John Wagner who were brought up with the sort of egalitarian socialism of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s which is exactly the sort of background most American writers, and indeed, fans didn’t have a background in. So women in American comics were generally there to make up the numbers, and so that sort of treatment of women spilled over into how fans though about women before the ‘eww, girls have cooties’ phase that most boys go though at some point in their early years, but most of us grow out of it.

This is something I’ve touched on before, but in this case let’s focus on the expression ‘Fake Geek Girl’ for what it is. It’s become a meme where you can stumble across people calling it out, or defending it, or apathetically saying nothing about it. It is designed purely to offend women.

Before we go on, let me explain about the distant past called the 1980’s when the idea of half naked women dressed as Black Canary wandering around a convention was, frankly, laughable.

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I’ve covered my history of British conventions in the past, but the one thing I didn’t mention in detail was the lack of women and girls. I remember sitting around hotel bars at various UKCAC’s in the 80’s and 90’s bemoaning the lack of women, if only to thin out the smell of sweaty fanboys in Batman shirts that haven’t washed in days. Frankly in the old days, women were restricted to being the mothers of kids they brought, the odd girlfriend who dared to come along (and I can tell you having taken girlfriends to cons in the past this can be a weird experience) and very rarely, the odd female fan who loved comics. This number grew during the 90’s but they were coming into comics through comic version of the Anne Rice books, or Sandman,  or Love & Rockets, or indeed, any of the more inclusive comics that started coming from the US during the late 80’s and 90’s. You also had the rise of Cosplay as more people immersed themselves into the Manga culture it spawned from, plus programmes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, increased a female audience for material which til then had been almost exclusively the preserve of males. This pissed people off because how dare these women get involved with things they like, and as this new popularity with genre fiction in comics, TV, etc came across the Atlantic we saw a move from the egalitarian socialism which was the norm in British comics culture to a more Americanised version where people now defend the recent nude Halo Jones fiasco, or indeed, join in the nonsense that is the ‘fake Geek Girl’ meme.

This isn’t to say that there’s not people out there jumping on a bandwagon, or indeed the whole ‘geek’ thing has become a cultural trend and this is a point made by others, but the reality is the term is used to abuse and intimidate women so it’s been made a pejorative word by male fans who frankly, just hate women taking an active role in something they think is there’s and that’s just sad and wanky.

The American comics industry is frankly full of exploitation, and at this point I’d heartily recommend the excellent Pussey by Dan Clowes.

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It’s an amazingly funny, not to mention vicious dissection of the American comics industry, but it gives a lot of context to where American comics, not to mention the ‘geek culture’ went during the 90’s.

The point of all this is that some fans are wankers. Some are glory hunters. Some are just jumping on a trend and will jump off again in a few years. Some don’t know anything about comics history. Some only want to cheer ‘their’ side on and to hell with creators, other fans and anything as long as they get their fix. Some want to degrade women. Which brings me round to the way things were in the 80’s and early 90’s where fans and creators fought to get more women into comics. They fought to make things better, but are now seeing a vicious reprisal to this from people who have found an internet connection and want to spout their hatred because that’s what they’ve decided to do with their lives. This doesn’t mean people should sit back, but it just means we’ve got to have a go back and make things fun for everyone. Don’t put up with people’s sense of entitlement or their stupidity.

That would be the decent and human thing to do.

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?

The Rise and Fall of the UK Comic Art Convention

I’ve done some blogs previously about the prehistory of British comic conventions and the story of my first real comic convention but leaving aside the tale of the Eisnercon in Glasgow for a bit, let’s go diving right into the tale of UKCAC

UKCAC was the brainchild of Frank Plowright and Hassan Yussuf to capitalise on the growing popularity of comics in all it’s genres, not just superheroes or 2000AD which tends to be the case with a lot of British events these days, hence the ‘Comic Art’ part of the title. The first one was held in London in 1985 but seeing as I didn’t attend that one or the one in 1986 there’s nothing I have to say about them but they quickly turned into the essential comic convention in the UK.

So in 1987 I went to my first UKCAC and this also happened to be the last time I paid to get into any comic convention in the UK, which is quite impressive in it’s own sad wee way, but anyhow in the summer of 1987 a group of us at AKA decided to go to that year’s convention. I reckon there must have been around seven or eight of us which included myself, Pete Root, Jim from the SF Bookshop in Edinburgh, Peter Coyle and a load of regulars and drinking partners from AKA. We decided the best way to go around things was to hire a minibus which was really a converted long wheelbaseTransit Van.

Seven or eight blokes. In a van. Driving from Glasgow to London overnight. The logical thing not to do before getting in the van is not go for a curry, so we went for a curry, bought a load of beers and piled in the van for the long overnight journey down to London. Now this was a long time ago, but I do remember the stench of a load of sweaty blokes drinking and farting all the way down.

It wasn’t pretty.

Anyhow a load of us were staying at the university halls that UKCAC had arranged as cheap accommodation, while some of the others had booked in at the main hotel but before we all planned to check in we’d arranged a trip to Titan Distributors in the East End of London. Now we turned up in London very early, probably around 6 or 7am (we even saw Alexei Sayle popping out for some milk on a Saturday morning)  to the Titan warehouse.

Nowadays the warehouse is a set of yuppie flats….

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But back then it was a filthy old building next to a park full of used johnnies and used syringes, with a horrific greasy spoon cafe nearby, but we piled into the warehouse, and I remember helping Pete Root get some stuff for AKA. I can’t remember who exactly was there as most of the staff had the day off as UKCAC was on. Once we’d done what we needed to at Titan, we headed into Central London to check into our respective rooms, dump our stuff and wait to get into the convention.

1987 was probably the year when comics became massive. Watchmen was massive, and Dark Knight Returns and Maus had taken off, 2000AD was in another great period. People were interested in comics as a medium and things were fun. Okay, it was still a male dominated scene and the stench of misogyny and sweat were still rife but it was growing and there were a load of kids becoming interested in anything comic related which was great as many of those people are still fans today.

Here’s a thing about these events; they’re a massive blur, so from the time we joined the queue to get in, everything seemed to happen at once. We got in, and I headed for the dealers room with most of the others while everyone else went to the bar. At comic conventions you always end up in the bar but I was still in my fanboy phase so it was comics first, beer second.

It was around here that was introduced to Geoff from Neptune Distributors in a meeting which ended up with me working for Neptune five months later. The afternoon moved on and I went to several panels featuring the likes of Alan Moore and a fresh faced Neil Gaiman who was on a panel with Grant Morrison who we’d brought with us in the van of sweat. It was all jolly fun during the day and in the evening we mingled with people we’d never met before from London comic fandom and had a fairly fun time.

After a pitiful nights sleep at the university halls, we did the same again on the Sunday which was like attending a wake before the person has died. That’s how depressing the last day at a convention or a festival feels. It’s awful and it’s always like it be it a comic convention or festival or anything where you know you have to go home at the end of it all.

We watched some awards, picked up a few bargains in the dealers room, had a few more beers, said our farewells and piled back in the van of stench for the long, depressing journey back to Glasgow with a promise to come back next year.

Sadly this was a promise I didn’t live up to as by this time I was working at Neptune, which was fine, but I’d been diagnosed with a particularly nasty bout of Glandular Fever and was off work for more or less a month while been told to stay in bed. I was painfully ill and my body was covered in open sores so I was in no fit state to go anywhere so I missed UKCAC in 1988. I did get some nice stuff brought back by workmates but I’d rather been there in person. Next year I thought from the pit of my sickbed…

Which brings us to 1989.

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This year I was fit and healthy, still working for Neptune who co-sponsored the convention that year so that meant I was dashing around being nice to clients and potential clients which really means spending a lot of time in the bar, and the UKCAC bar was a large well-stocked bar.

Again, things were a blur. I did a lot of running from the lower levels of the convention to the bar and was cutting a dashing figure back in those days, but we all had great fun teasing the Titan lot, and making nice little digs to the Forbidden Planet crowd who came down from Glasgow. Pettiness can be fun kids!

This is where things get a bit vague, as the next convention I went to as part of Neptune that was organised by the UKCAC team was the first Glasgow Comic Art Convention held as part of Glasgow’s City of Culture celebrations in 1990. This however is destined for it’s own blog, so this brings us swiftly to the 1990 UKCAC in London.

By this time I’d left Neptune in a blaze of glory a few weeks earlier, so myself an Neil (another former employee of Neptune) went down off our own backs to London to help out Chris Bacon’s tables but seeing as we didn’t have much money, we didn’t have anywhere to stay so we went down in the hope of winging it, which we did. We ended up crashing on poor Martin Skidmore’s floor, who by this point was still editor of Trident Comics and had his room paid for by Geoff and Neptune. This meant Neil and myself took the piss by ordering beers, food, making transatlantic phone calls, making noise, keeping poor Martin up and generally running up an enormous bill. 400 quid I believe. Considering I left Neptune being owed a few hundred quid I considered this payback.

But this was a transition as I moved to be firmly part of Chris’s retail set-up and for the next eight years the pattern was set for UKCAC, which meant turning up early on Friday morning. Setting up. Getting drunk. Selling comics, Getting drunk. Selling comics hungover. Going home. Sleeping.

The catch in all this that apart from one or two years, mainly later on, I had nowhere to stay so this meant blagging a floor, heading up to the Scala for an all-night film programme, or staying up all night in the bar drinking.

1991 was an interesting year in that I wasn’t working full time in comics, but had nearly a decade’s worth of experience in the industry by now, so I knew a lot of people. But I was helping out Chris now so that meant getting down early on Friday to help set up.

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After the set-up, there was a free bar paid for by Titan and Forbidden Planet as the Friday was a dealers day, so dealers from across the UK would come down for various fairly boring meetings. The free bar however was a chance to cover yourself in glory by drinking as much as possible in the hour the free bar was open. I was normally wonderfully successful in this, and would take as much of Mike Like’s money as possible seeing as I was a freeloader by this point.

It should also be said that the dealers room was fucking heaving in these days. You literally had tens and twenties in big thick wads coming over the tables. You can see this in this video from the five minute mark or so when you see the rush there used to be at UKCAC, and yes, that’s Little Chris (as opposed to Big Chris who wasn’t big) and our tables being filmed. 1991 though was a transition year and the following year was when the pattern of comics, drinking and hangovers kicked into full gear.

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This was a great year. There was some lads down from Glasgow as well which made things even more fun. I annoyed Warren Ellis. I helped an American writer/artist avoid getting a kicking for being a loudmouth twat. I crashed on a hotel floor somewhere. Sold some comics, stayed up all night in the bar, sold some comics hungover, packed up and went home feeling ill to Leicester which is where I was living at the time.

1993 was more of the same, but by now there was a group of people, so that was people like Doug, and Steve Noble, and all the other people who would come in and out of the scene. I was in Bristol at this point, so this was a huge year as it was a big Comics and CD’s outing which meant tonnes and tonnes of comics being driven up from Bristol to London, which we unloaded and loaded.

1993 also seemed to be the start of UKCAC’s decline. Frank had priced the event too high to help pay for the thing and get the calibre of guest it needed from the US, but it was still heavily supported within the UK but London isn’t a cheap place to hold conventions, nor is it a cheap place to stay for a weekend if you’re on a budget so from 1994 there was a decline in numbers, not to mention Frank seemed less enthusiastic about running these things in London and Glasgow (which had become a regular event since 1990, but 94 was it’s last year)  for five years.

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This is where years blur into each other. I’m not sure if 94 was the year where myself, Steve Noble and Doug stayed up all night on the Saturday, got drunk and then wandered round Russell Square to find a breakfast. Or if this was the year when Dez Skinn helped a fanzine publisher who was getting gobby with people avoid getting a thick ear. Or if this was the year when I woke in a strange hotel room with a female member of Forbidden Planet’s staff. Or if this was the year when Kev Sutherland dared me to go up to an editor of DC Comics and take the piss out of Vertigo titles. Or if this was the year where the only people left drinking in the bar were Scots and we were scaring tourists coming down for breakfast.

You get the picture…

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One thing was clear though. That was that the crowds were declining, London had priced people out and Frank was intent that year would be it’s last, so after the 1997 UKCAC there didn’t seem to be any stomach for it anymore, plus Frank was living in Glasgow now (I’d helped sell the city to him years earlier) and really hated the trips to London to organise UKCAC, but Glasgow was too far north for a location so in 1998 UKCAC was to be held in Manchester.

Now this isn’t to say Frank didn’t try in the last few London years. He did. He managed to get Jonathan Ross and Paul Gambaccini to present some awards, not to mention he was still trying to inject some life into UKCAC but it didn’t bring it back to life. There was also the fact that people were growing up and there wasn’t the younger crowds to come in as there was in 1990 to 1993. The event was pricing kids out.

So the last year in Manchester. I’d come up from Leicester with a mate Kev, I was working with at the sadly departed Pump and Tap who was a huge fan of Shaky Kane, so we went up winging it to Manchester. We turned up with no hotel, so we found this cheap dive near the station, which was a shite hotel but we only had intentions to use it to sleep.

As we turned up at the UKCAC venue Chris and Maurice hadn’t turned up from Bristol with the stock. In fact nobody seemed to have turned up. In fact it was a big empty room though there was a very helpful young girl who said everything was booked and we were the first people there.

So we waited, and by late morning on the Friday, Frank had turned up to shake things up to be followed by the first few dealers, including Chris and Maurice from Bristol who we were helping out. The rumours were already underway that this was the last UKCAC, and Frank clearly didn’t have the stomach for it anymore and I don’t blame him. He kept the thing going for over a decade, often with no thanks and a lot of spite chucked his way, but he was clear this was it as far as he was concerned, so Manchester was the end.

Only problem was that there were few dealers, and as the convention was set up around us on the Friday, it looked like there was nobody coming. There was a party in the convention hotel on the Friday night which Kev and myself went to (where he met Shaky)  which really did feel like a wake, but it was in a large hotel which also happened to have a student ball which meant the toilets quickly filled up with sick, and then I got very drunk and made a Manchester United fan look daft. I remember being taken back to my hotel by Kev and crashing out in preparation of the day ahead…

The first day proper of the convention was ok. As there wasn’t a lot of dealers, and actually more people than anticipated turning up, we made quite a lot of money and were coining it. The whole thing though just felt sad as we knew there was nothing to come next year, and the marts being held in cities across the UK were no substitute. This feeling of The End ran through the entire weekend, and into the Saturday night in the bar which is normally a fun time was still fun, but was full of people talking about what would happen next.

This however wasn’t a priority as we went back to our hotel room that night to find that someone had broken into it as they were too drunk to realise they were in the wrong room, so we ended up getting a free hotel for the weekend even though we had to kip in a room that smelled of someone else’s sick for one night as there wasn’t anymore rooms. the next morning went to breakfast and saw this chap sheepishly sitting across the room from us as we stared the fucker down.

Twat.

Anyhow, we did the usual on a Sunday. Sold comic hungover. I was interviewed by a girl from Manchester student radio who accused us of selling porn to kids which was completely not true. We just sold it to their dads…

The other interview was from BBC Manchester who came down to do the ‘oh, let’s laugh at the geeks’ piece telly often does when covering these events.

Sunday ran it’s course. We had a whip round for Frank as it was the farewell and used the money to buy some Captain Marvel comics from, errm, us, which was nice. Frank was made up though and seemed genuinely happy, plus he was getting shot of the whole UKCAC thing so he was relaxed.

As for everyone else there was talk of next year. Chris and myself were talking of looking into doing something in Nottingham, while a chat with Kev Sutherland opened up an avenue in Bristol, (which is eventually where a UK convention ended up but more of this another time) but nothing was confirmed beyond a chat in the bar. As far as anyone was really concerned it was over, so we all said our farewells, and Kev and myself got the train back to Leicester just in time to make last orders at the Pump and Tap to give a final toast to UKCAC.

So for 12 years or so UKCAC galvanised the British comics scene and brought out a generation of fans and creators. It did an amazing job. Yes it had flaws. Yes, it died a fairly sad death, but nobody else managed to put on such a good show. People tried, but nobody else succeeded, even a large American company who organised a convention at Alexandra Palace in the early 90’s failed to see it take off.

There’s one more thing. This cartoon by Lew Stringer sums up a huge number of comics fans..

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It was in the programme for the last UKCAC in 1998 and it’s pretty spot on. I seem to be stuck at the minute between cynic and nostalgist…

Next time, something Glastonbury related or the Eisnercon story…