Bitter Sweet Symphony epilogue/ Oh Look, There Goes Concorde….

After doing six parts of this series of blogs which summarise a large part of my time in comics, not to mention some major parts of comics history from the history of Glasgow’s shops in the 80’s, to the growth of the direct market and British distribution, the messy battle between AKA Books and Comics and Forbidden Planet in Glasgow, a bit of background on FP, the battle between Neptune and Titan and last time, the opening of FP in Bristol you have to ask me as a reader ‘well, that was some nice stories, and I didn’t know most of it but what are you on about?”

Well, it’s fairly easy. These are stories which people don’t know, or maybe only know bits and bobs of it or looked in from afar. It’s a heady cocktail of stories that were sad, fun, interesting, boring or whatever, but throwing these stories out were to make a point:

That they’re gone. They ain’t coming back and like all good things that promised so much and were amazing at the time they’ve been replaced by more dreary and mundane things. It’s a final flight to remind me, and you of what is done and past, or if you didn’t know, at least inform you of a bit more of what happened at a time when the comics industry in the UK was completely transformed from a ramshackle bunch of shops owned by hippies, amateurs and crooks to big business, and the loss of variety and creativity.

This isn’t to say there’s good shops, not to mention people involved in comics in the UK today. There’s bloody loads of them. However I’ve had the feeling for decades that if AKA hadn’t had FP open up you’d see more new talent coming out of Glasgow, or if Comics and CD’s hadn’t sold up I’d be sitting behind a till just up the road from where I live now, or if Neptune hadn’t collapsed spectacularly I’d still be there, or Trident Comics would still be going, and on and on and on.

You get the picture. There’s a vanload of regret here, not to mention sadness that so much opportunity was missed, or wasted even if for much of time I was involved in these things it was fantastic, shiny and wonderful. I shouldn’t really regret these times as they were great, but it’s those missed opportunities for the future, now my past, that I do but if I had a superpower it’d be the power of hindsight.

So these times go flying off into the past, and that’s the point not just of my little bitter sweet memories of those times, but probably much of what I’ll end up blogging about generally. It’s going to be like the final flight of Concorde…

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Next time: something bridging my love of comics and Glastonbury Festival….

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Bitter Sweet Symphony part six/ The Great Bristol Comic Shop Wars

Go read the other parts of this series otherwise you might be a wee bit lost……

Part one. Part two. Part three. Part four. Part five.

We’re in the last two parts, both of which are relatively quick and to the point, so lets crack on…..

In early 1993 I moved down to Bristol to work at Comics and C.D’s on the Gloucester Road. The shop was owned by Chris Bacon and Maurice Pitman (known to most people as Marr) , who were a pair of characters I’d first encountered in my Neptune days through Neil Phipps who was a colleague there. Neil had worked for Chris when Chris owned a comic shop in Leicester which used to be in the underpass by the Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) around 1986. They ran a business selling comics mainly at comic marts like the Westminster comic mart which was utterly bloody massive in those pre-internet days when getting comics was a chore and a half, and they bought old stock from Neptune thanks to their connection with Neil.

After Neil left Neptune after a truly spectacular falling out with Geoff, I became Chris’s main contact there and continued to flog him whatever we were trying to clear, and when I left Neptune started helping Chris and Marr out at marts, not to mention travelling to Bristol to help tackle the massive amount of stock in Marr’s extension. In 1992 they decided to open up a shop in Bristol as Forever People on Park Street was really the only game in town. This didn’t cause any major problems as Chris and Marr were on good terms with Mike at Forever People plus Park Street and Gloucester Road had different types of shoppers compared with how things are today. If anything Comics and CD’s caused a little ripple at Plastic Wax but that passed, and they’re still around looking very much as they did back then.

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I moved down to Bristol around March 1993, and ended up having some great fun in the shop which was on Gloucester Road at a time when every shop on the road (which is one of the longest roads in the city) was an independent shop.

The shop was just past what is the Co-Op and is now a rather nice wee deli.

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I’ll go on about my time at the shop, the fun and games, more about Chris and Marr, that experience with half a roast chicken in a service station on the M4, late night drinking sessions and the fun and antics of 1993’s UKCAC, and of course the Vertigo signing session that spilled from the shop and cut a drunken swathe across Bristol before ending up with Jamie Hewlett drawing Tank Girl sketches for people at the Cadbury House pub.

The point is that things were again pretty cushy for me. Things were fun. Everything was shiny and fab! I was even at the shop when Chris bought Neptune’s remaining stock at a bailiff sale in Nottingham and we got their stuff from there to the shop, so all this stuff followed me around. In fact, when I moved back down to Bristol in 2000, some of it ended up in my garage in Clifton but I’m getting ahead of myself….

Then who should come lurching back into the picture waving at me but Mike Lake and Forbidden Planet….

As previously pointed out, FP were expanding across the UK in the wake of the success of sorts of FP Glasgow, and then opened in Cardiff, Nottingham and across the country but in a city where they had existing customers they were still avoiding opening. In Bristol they had not only us at Comics and CD’s, but Forever People who were one of the very first comic shops in the UK..

The attitude by now coming from FP was ‘fuck it’ so they opened in Bristol and promptly undercut both shops in the city. Comics and CD’s struggled on for a bit before Chris and Marr sold the shop to Mike Allwood who renamed it Area 51, which is still in Bristol, but a bit further up Gloucester Road in a much, much smaller shop.

Unlike the long, bloody and bitter war between AKA and FP in Glasgow, this was more of a  Audley Harrison-esque battle which was over before it really started. Chris and Marr retreated back into doing conventions and marts, not to mention selling wholesale to other dealers from the UK and US.

I moved back up to Leicester just before Christmas 1993, and that was the last I spent earning a living full-time in comics but would still continue to work for Chris and Marr for the rest of the 90’s up til the last major Bristol Comics Expo in 2008, though I did help Chris out at last years frankly disastrous Expo, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself…

The point is that the real world was trying to come crashing into my life and if there’s one thing about working in any part of the comics industry, you don’t interact with the real world much. Thankfully though working in the licensed trade is almost as unreal as comics but I really am bloody getting ahead of myself..

Next time: so what was the point of this series of blogs anyhow?