My Top 20 SF Films-Extra!-The Star Trek series

I’ve ran down my top 20 SF films over the last month or so, but as I promised there’s one last bonus blog on the subject that I wanted to separate from the main list as it really is something of it’s own.

This is the Star Trek series of films…

I grew up like many kids watching Star Trek on TV on the BBC in the evening, and like many kids fell utterly in love with this very American, though at the same time, Humanist vision of the future. When as a bright-eyed 12 year old I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture I was in awe.

Like a lot of the blockbusters of the 70’s, my memories of this is queuing in the cold, or the snow in Glasgow with one  or my parents, but in this case both took me because they too loved Star Trek. My dad loved Kirk and Bones, while for my mum it was all about Spock.

So they took me to the ABC cinema in Sauchiehall Street on a dark winters night to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’d been nagging them for months that I wanted to see it the minute I saw an ad for it on the back page of various Marvel Comics of the time.

I couldn’t wait. I wanted to see this more than any of the other blockbusters of the time, bar one, but I’ll get to that one another time but that night I remember vividly. We got the bus into the city centre, walked the short distance from the bus stop to the cinema and joined what was already a huge queue in the snowy winter cold. I remember being upset we wouldn’t get in but both parents convinced me we were early enough to get a good seat, and true enough as the queue grew behind us I became convinced we’d get in but I wanted to get near the front.

After what felt like an eternity, we got in and the three of us, (well me dragging my parents behind me) legged into into the vast theatre, strode down near the front by the aisle (I still sit in the same position if possible today when going to the cinema) and I positioned myself between both my parents. My dad vanished to get some ‘snacks’ via the cinema bar, but returned in time for  the performance to start.

This is where I need to point out that in 2013 the cinema going experience is akin to a quick knee- trembler round the back of the bins. In 1979 it was like falling in love for the first time, not to mention it was the working class version of going to the opera. Films still had intermissions. Cinemas were glorious places of red and gold. Men and women in sharp suits guided you everywhere. It smelled of excitement, and of course screens were huge.

So we sat in our seat near the front by the aisle. A large cup of something fizzy in my hand, the lights dimmed, and the trailers and adverts ran. This still transfixed me though I wanted the main event and my heart sank as the lights came up, only for the screen to get wider, and wider as the main event came nearer, then the lights dimmed and the overture played…

See, this was part of the experience. This was the build up. Listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s still amazing score in the dark with several hundred impatient but obviously excited people, and then the film began….

A few hours later I’d seen my heroes return. I was tired, but I wanted chips and to talk about how awesome it was. Yes it didn’t have fights or anything but I didn’t care as the thing was simply majestic. I knew both my parents liked it too as they were talking to each other about it as I dozed on the bus home with my chips.

That night I went to bed exceptionally happy. It was simply a joyous night and for that night, I’m always going to love that first Star Trek film. As I was writing this I went to stick the DVD, but FilmFour was on and oddly enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was just starting. I watched it again with those same happy memories I’ve always and will always, have.

It’s my favourite of all the films because of this. There is however a close second.

A few years later things were a bit crap. My mother had died recently and I was 15 with a body full of raging hormones and a brain full of a lot of problems as I tried to make what I could of what was an increasingly depressing situation. One amazing lovely summers day I decided to go for a long walk and ended up walking along past the same ABC cinema which was showing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I went up, checked the times and saw I could make the next showing easily so in I went. got myself a ticket for what was a pretty empty cinema because, well, it’s a beautiful summers day in Glasgow. Those don’t come along often. However a few dozen other people joined me, possibly because the ABC was air-conditioned or they were fans, either way I wasn’t alone but I decided to position myself in the third row from the front as there was all the room in the world there.

The lights dimmed, the trailers and ads ran, and then the lights came up with the screen getting wider, which is what I expected, but it continued to get wider, and wider and wider. Then I remembered this was in 70mm and the ABC was one of the few screens in the city which could show 70mm prints. The screen was massive. Imagine the biggest screen in today’s multiplex’s and double it, and you’re about halfway there.

I was in the third row.

When the film started my eyeballs were wide open for the rest of my time at the cinema watching what is in my mind, the single best film featuring starships in combat. Forget about anything else, this is about a battle of mind and will, not to mention it’s about heroism. It’s about not lying down when it seems like you’re staring defeat in the face. It’s about dealing with death and moving on.

This is immensely cheesy but those couple of hours watching one of the most enjoyable films you’ll ever see helped me through a very bad time. It gave me the strength of mind to go on. For that reason I’ll love this film.

One thing though, sitting three rows from the front of a film being shown in 70mm is an experience and a half. Imax has nothing on this!

By the time Star Trek III: The Search for Spock rolled into cinemas, I was more settled in life for a while. I was doing my exams at school, and had fell in with the comics scene in Glasgow and had picked up friends outside of school.

Star Trek III is the sort of film that would never be made today. It’s fun. Nothing too dark or broody. It’s a bunch of old friends trying to save another and in the meantime they have an adventure and fight baddies. It’s simple but not simplistic. It’s good, bit not a spectacular effort compared tot he first two but it’s huge fun.

Again let’s skip a few years to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

This is just a joy. Like Wrath of Khan I saw this at a dark time. I didn’t know what I was going to do with life, and frankly I needed cheering up. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home did that perfectly. It’s utterly impossible not to watch this film and come out smiling with a positive attitude to, well, everything.

This film captures what Star Trek’s enduring message is. Humanity sometimes fucks up but we’ll sort it out, and we’ll do it by sticking together. It’s a bit 1960’s and in today’s Hipster ridden cynical age, seems childish but I’ll take inspiring humanity over empty cynicism any day of the week.

By the time Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came out, I’d moved from Glasgow to Leicester. It’s also a terrible film, but not without it’s enjoyable moments. That’s the best I can say about it so let’s move on…

In the early 1990’s I was firmly stuck in the limbo of the East Midlands, and it’s here on a day out in Nottingham with a friend Roz, that I saw Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

This is the last film with the full original cast which as the years goes by is something that’s increasingly sad as your childhood heroes pass away slowly one by one, but this film gives them a fantastic farewell as it again drives home the message of humanity and decency that Star Trek should be telling us.

See, we need positive science fiction. Dark, dystopian SF is fine but we need something to aspire to rather than being told we;re all rapists, cannibals and murderers really. We need something like Star Trek to say that with all our problems, we have something to aim for, or simply we can be better than this.

Star Trek VI gives our heroes a great farewell, in a great story. It’s a fitting end and although on TV there was still Star Trek: The Next Generation to keep the flag flying, though everyone knew that the next film along in the series would see the Next Generation crew take their place.

That film was Star Trek: Generations.

Now I like Generations. Yes, it’s an awful film in places, but I spent a glorious Sunday at a cinema in Leicester with Roz and some other friends watching all seven films in a row, though there were a lot of people taking a drinks and food break during Final Frontier.

This was a passing of the torch from the old crew who people of my age grew up with, to the Next Generation crew who people my age came to love because it was Star Trek after all, but really it’s a film of some good scenes wrapped round a bad film.

Star Trek: First Contact proved to be the Next Generation film most people were waiting for.

When this one came out I was still living in Leicester,which meant any escape was to be welcomed, so a crowd of us piled into the cinema for opening night, including one chap who took his Trek love so far he stuck a Mars Bar on his forehead and had to put up with it melting for the first part of the film.

There’s cosplay for you!

I like First Contact a lot. It’s not really Star Trek but it’s a harmless enough action film that makes you switch off your brain, which sadly starts to become a trait with Trek films from here on in.

At this point I skim over the cinematic nightmares that are Insurrection and Nemesis. Though I do think Nemesis is at least a better film (just) they really aren’t worth wasting time over like I did when I paid money at the cinema to sit through them both.

After Nemesis, Star Trek as a cinematic experience was pretty much dead. That is until 2009 when J.J Abrams Star Trek came out.

This is how modern American blockbusters should be, even if it’s not really Star Trek. It’s still the sort of fun, fairly mindless space action film that passes for SF these days, but it’s so well made and at times, genuinely affecting.

It’s a film that’s meant to be just enjoyed. Best to treat it that way and it won’t insult you too much!

And this takes this blog to 2013 and the latest film, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Now some fans hate this film. I don’t, apart from the ending. It’s conrtieved beyond belief but otherwise up til then it’s a  solid action adventure film. Ok, again it’s not especially Star Trek, but it’s a fun film which passes the time.

Sadly, this is what Star Trek has become. It doesn’t give you an experience or make you think but it does allow you to pass a couple of hours now and at least enjoy those few hours. There are films there which don’t do that. These now at least are entertainment.

I’ll always go back to those first few films though, with the first two especially meaning an awful lot to me. Those films are always going to be a tough benchmark to beat, and hopefully one day someone decides to do a smart Star Trek film that isn’t all about the shooting and stuff.

So there you go, I’ve done my top SF films. I’ve poured my heart out about Star Trek and lived to tell the tale, and I’m going to carry on doing a few more Top 20 lists. Next time, my Top 20 Comic Books films…….

What I Thought Of Fantomex #1

As promised here’s my review of issue one of Marvel’s Fantomex. It’s been getting some horrible reviews, but although there’s points which I may agree with, the reviews like this one at IGN are grossly unfair, especially when the reviewer complains about the violence in Fantomex, a title meant by Marvel to be read by adults but seems to revel in the violence in certain DC Comics meant for a different audience.

All the panels here come from the Comixology download I had to make this morning when I realised I wanted to show some panels and didn’t have a working scanner. It’s a superb service and I’ll be using that site an awful lot in future…

Also, I’m going to make it clear I’ve know the writer Andrew Hope for years, but I’m going to be doing this review as if I didn’t. Also, Andy would think I’m being a creepy wanker if I didn’t and he’d be right, so lets crack on….

First is the cover. The cover is excellent.

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It’s got a nice touch of Milo Manara about it. It’s gaudy and eye-catching while not looking exactly like all the other superhero fayre out there at the moment. It’s a lovely work of art. The interiors are by Shawn Crystal, an artist I wasn’t familiar with but there’s nice touches that remind me of Paul Grist via Berni Wrightson  & Mike Ploog in places. His use of letratone is also incredibly welcome when many superhero artists only fire up the laptop, slap some computer effects on and then go back to bed, so to see some genuinely hand-crafted touches like this is welcome. Crystal has serious potential.

As for the story the first page launches us right into the action without telling us what’s going on. We also get a hint of the tone from this panel.

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It’s a nicely composed panel with Fleming on one side, the ship on the other, and the eye is drawn to the body in the centre of the frame so we’re told that Fleming is the character we should be rooting for thanks to the jokey line about looking ‘great in skintight black kevlar’ and the fact she’s running into danger so she’s the hero we should be following.

What’s instantly jarring is that as soon as Fleming is introduced we’re thrown into a battle between the title character Fantomex, and a man in some hi-tech battle suit in the next few pages. In fact the man is the night watchmen of whatever secret base Fantomex has broken into, and we assume, Fleming is breaking into.

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There’s a nice light tone in all this bantering but the reason this is all jarring is I’m not being told as a casual reader why I should care about Fantomex, what he is (there is a caption saying he’s an international super criminal in a previous panel) or anything that makes anyone who hasn’t read an X Men comic care about this character. It’s a good thing especially in a four issue series to throw your audience in at the deep end, but this assumes you’re familiar with Fantomex, not to mention it shifts your focus from Fleming to Fantomex too quickly. Who’s our entry character?

To show an example of what I mean, look at the first episode of Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, revamp Rose. The first ten minutes or so is all about the Rose character, her life, and we start to empathise with her so that when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor arrives the madness and insanity which follows is something that we’re seeing through Rose’s eyes. She’s our focus even though the programme isn’t really about her, but it is. I use this as an example because it’s a brilliant example of easing a casual audience into things and then hitting them with everything but the kitchen sink once they’ve been lured in.

With Fantomex who is our focus? Who’s the reader to empathise with from the off? The rush into an action scene means the tone isn’t set up properly which leaves things for the rest of the issue feeling a bit jarring as Hope tries to cram a lot into these opening pages. A slower pace might not cram in lots of action, but it helps introduce a casual reader without being bombarded with so much BOOM!

After a few pages our two main characters meet..

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As said, I think the artist is a serious prospect, but his attempt to render Fantomex as a more traditional superhero doesn’t work here, especially when you’ve got a well rendered Fleming to compare it with. I do think it’s these first few pages which cause the problem with the tone of the issue. It’s a bit too scattergun.

After all this the issue settles down and we start to get into the plot as Fleming’s boss in the agency (we’re not told what agency) she works for brings in a group of people very clearly based upon the old ITC series, The Champions.Those mornings during school holidays plumped in front of the telly were not wasted…

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From here on, the tone settles into a pulpy tone as we’re introduced to the idea that Fantomex is trying to help Fleming for some reason, though as we’ve barely been introduced to either character it’s debatable at this point whether a casual reader cares.

The next few pages show the Champions, or whatever they are in the Marvel Universe are not the good guys we assume, which brings me to where I think the proposed idea that this comic is homophobic comes from.

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Fleming rebuts MacReady’s advances in the same way one assumes she’d rebut a bloke doing the same thing, plus she’s probably not a lesbian. This isn’t Hope going ‘I FUCKING HATE TEH GAYZZZZZ’, but showing that there’s something not honest about these characters. We’re finally let into the fact that it’s Fleming who’s our entry character and the one we’re rooting for, though there’s problems with this panel.

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I’ve an issue with rape being flung around casually in superhero comics, even ones meant for adults and as I’ve written before about the subject of misogyny and sexism in superhero comics, it’d be remiss of me to not pick up on this. The tone is distinctly rapey. It straddles the line where it’d be cheap but  part of the story or just cheap. It does however stay, just, on the side of being part of the story. Of course the fact there’s a massive amount of violence before this panel where innocent agents are murdered by The Champions also shows how much of a bunch of bastards these three are. Still, it’s part of the story. It’s an easy way to introduce a threat from the three directly towards Fleming from these three without going into the Hulk threatening to rape Betty Ross territory.

The rest of the issue slips easily into a fun little read, with a lovely reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing, a fantastically executed dream sequence written entirely in French and the set-up for issue 2.

So what exactly did I think?

It’s hard to give a fair judgement of the first part of a four issue series eventually meant to be released in a trade paperback. The first issues of things like this tend to be reams and reams of crammed exposition setting up the next issues so they don’t muck around trying to explain what’s going on and who everyone is, but the sketchy start of the issue doesn’t help it fight it’s corner. However I do think that you’ve got a writer trying to find a voice for Fantomex but we don’t know what it is yet.

Also, it seems that X Men fans were expecting another Deadpool which this isn’t. It’s clearly heading towards a Diabolik (I wouldn’t expect a lot of current Marvel readers to spot this) style of European anti-hero as opposed to the slightly too self-referential character that Deadpool has become. It is what it is which is a big camp romp, but I think this may pass reviewers over, hence the hate as they want something else and this isn’t it.

Fantomex #1  is a fun read once you get past the first few pages of the book which is I think the flaw with the comic. It’s not a work of high art, or the best comic you’ll read but it’s a refreshingly pulpy read which is a change from the pompous superhero titles that clog up the market. I wouldn’t this trite as our friend from IGN did, nor do I think Crystal’s style is ‘silly’, especially when most superhero artists are variations of each other and originality is a hard thing to come by these days in the mainstream. I do however agree the swearing and violence feels forced at times, rather than part of the story or who these characters are. That’s always been the problem with the Max line though rather than the creators as I know editors in the past have asked for a bit more gore here, a fuck there and bingo! They have an ‘adult’ comic.

What I’m saying is come to this expecting a pulpy read. It’s a flawed comic from a writer who’s been out the industry for 20 years and an artist finding his feet in the industry. I’m not convinced yet that Fantomex is perhaps the character for these two to find their voices and style but they deserve as much of a chance as anyone else. It’s not a comic that ‘couldn’t have gone worse’ but it’s a comic which could be better, which is true of everything, even things like Maus which are as near to perfect as you get. Don’t believe those saying it’s a disaster, it’s not. I’ll be picking up the next three issues to see if things do shape up, and we get the fun read I’m expecting then I’ll give my informed opinion of the full series.

The Great Glasgow Comic Shop Wars- 25 years and one day later…..

Yesterday I wrote a blog. It seems to have been quite the kerfuffle, but as you can see from reading it there’s good reasons to as even I find it quite amazingly angry, bitter & and twisted some 24 hours later. However I stand by every single bit of it but this is a last word (for now) about that particular chapter now that Andy Hope has revealed he’s writing Fantomex for Marvel Comics.

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I know Andy is doing interviews and kindly Tweeted yesterday’s blog on his Twitter account which is why I imagine yesterday’s blog had more hits than anything else I’ve ever blogged about, including my Glastonbury blogs. So this is to say thanks to Andy, and I hope that when people stumble across this blog they go back and read my little biography/history lesson.

Just to make it easy here’s the links to each part.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Epilogue

For those people coming to this fresh, yes, there are huge chunks probably missing but I didn’t feel that served the story I was trying to tell. I am going to do a history of Neptune Distribution (I’ve made a start but trying to read my handwriting from 25 years ago was a task then) but my main priority for the summer is writing about Glastonbury and festivals in general as anyone with even a passing knowledge of this blog will have sussed out how much of my heart lies there these days. Not to say comics are dumped, but sitting in a field in the sun with like minded good people beats sitting in sweaty comic shops, warehouses or offices full of marketing people talking about comics.

Though in saying that there has to be a way to combine both & oddly enough I’m working on that….

In closing, I’ll be rounding off my history of my experiences of Glastonbury, tackling a few more blogs about my experiences of other festivals and then I’m going to do a big juicy history of Neptune Distribution with all the sex and violence intact…

The Great Glasgow Comic Shop Wars-25 years later……

In parts three and four of my rough history of Glasgow’s comic shops, comic distribution, and chunks of my life between the ages of 21 to 26 or so, I went into detail about those times but a few recent events, not to mention some of the reactions to those blogs, have prompted me to do a little follow up to clear a few things up.

It should be needless to say that you really need to go read the other blogs before coming back to read this.

Firstly my ire and spite was not aimed at anyone working there (outside of the majority of directors/management involved with the situation at the time) past or present. Yes, I do think some people tried to not get involved but there were also people who should have known better and I’m sure those people know who they were so I’ll say nothing else apart from point out that taking a moral stand involves having a spinal column and a sense of right and wrong.

Secondly, I was trying to put a few things straight as the history of British comics tends to ignore, or at best vaguely allude, to the corporatism of what Forbidden Planet did, and how it changed comics retailing in this country by making their shops the Starbucks of comic shops, not to mention having shops trying to follow in their wake rather than follow their own independent path.

Thirdly, it was to point out the sheer bastardry of how people acted at the time. As I said, when I was working for Neptune we did get behind AKA Books and Comics and we did stir things up on a massive scale, but I make no apologies for my actions, nor anyone at AKA because frankly we weren’t the ones who abused friendships and acted underhandedly.

A lot of comics journalism tends to veer on the side of being nice enough to stay on the right side of all concerned, but seeing as I’m not a journalist, nor working in comics I don’t need to bother with that so you read my side of what happened. If you don’t like it and think I’m a cunt then you’re not the only person who thinks that of me. At least I didn’t betray my morals, or my friendships.

The latest round in this was also fired by me old mucker Andrew Hope on his Twitter account who posted this Tweet as he’s now working for Marvel Comics on something quite huge, though someone has to revamp the Human Fly…

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But joking aside, you can see how that even though Andy’s not lived in the UK for over 20 years and hasn’t been involved in comics, or the Glasgow comic scene in that time, the whole thing still leaves a scar though I’m chuffed about Andy’s AKA hashtag which is a nice reminder of where his heart still lies.

It’s because of Andy and a few things I learned at this years Glastonbury in among the fun and joy that prompted this addendum to my earlier series of blogs. I’m glad the response to those blogs was so positive from the right people back in Glasgow, and I hope some people who think I’m stirring things just choke.

I know this all seems bitter, bad tempered and spiteful when for most of my writing I’ve tried to throw in a bit of humour, but I thought I’d make things clear that some wounds don’t heal, and you should never forget or forgive if the other side don’t care about such things and anyhow, my time for doing that was years ago so this is a deep scar that’s not going away.

So I wish Andy well. He didn’t need to reach out to FP Glasgow, but he did and for that he’s probably better than me, but now this piece of catharsis is finally out my system I hope to improve and become a better rounded unit.

Nah, not really. I’ll let this thing fester in me for years because I know I could have, and should have done more not to mention I should have went home more often. Not that it might have made things better but I feel that some people didn’t get the support they should have, even at funerals.

I hope to draw a line under this chapter with this as I’ve got other things to deal with, plus I’d rather write in a lighter tone, but right now I’m seriously considering selling everything to live in a field somewhere (seriously) and with Andy’s Tweet this gave me an excuse to blurt this out & relieve a wee  bit of stress.

Here’s a picture though of a cat to make everyone laugh…

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Man of Steel-What You Might Like to Know About Superman

The new Superman film, Man of Steel is out in the UK this week amid a huge amount of publicity and fuss. It looks like it might even be a bit above the usual American summer blockbuster. It might even be a very good film and it’s got good people in front and behind the camera. It is however an an enormous fuck you to the creators of Superman and their family who have been fighting for as long as Superman has existing to get a fair share of the billions upon billions their creation has made for it’s corporate owners for over seven decades.

 

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and first published in 1938. You can see the pair discuss their creation of Superman here. The media are falling over themselves to provide studies of the myth and meaning of Superman over the last 75 years, but few if any will mention how Siegel and Shuster were shafted  over the creative rights of Superman.

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I didn’t know anything of this as a kid reading comics, not until I read in a fanzine about Neal Adams fighting for Siegal and Shuster to get due credit for Superman in the 1970’s and the story of the messy history between DC (and the companies before it became DC Comics) is in this excellent article here. Siegel struggled to make a living in comics for years, and there’s a mention ins Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story about how Stan Lee felt sorry for Siegel in the 1960’s when he was struggling for work, so gave him whatever job he could at Marvel but because his writing style didn’t fit into the Marvel style of the time this meant menial office jobs. The man who was partly responsible for the boom in superheroes and for creating employment for people at Marvel and DC was reduced to struggling for work and favours from friends like Lee. Siegel even worked for IPC’s line of boy’s adventure comics and created The Spider which appeared in Lion, which was a strip I adored as a kid.

 

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In 1975 DC agreed to pay Siegel and Shuster $20,000 for the rest of their lives. At that point, they’d made billions from Superman, and even then this amount was only agreed after the work of people like Neal Adams. This was not something DC out of the goodness of their heart.

By the time of their deaths the dispute still hadn’t been settled, and carried on to their heirs,  who continued to fight for what was a fair share of their creation as the sons and daughters of shareholders made money from Superman but the family of the men who created him didn’t. However due to US copyright law, the rights would revert to Siegel and Shuster’s families, and that would include the film rights as well. Early last year, DC’s parent company Warner Brothers won, which saw Man of Steel go quickly into production to ensure the film rights stayed with Warner’s .

So when you settle down to watch Man of Steel in your comfy chair in the cinema have a wee thought about the creators and their families and wonder why the media is talking about the heroic myth of Superman, but don’t feel it’s important to mention what happened to Siegel and Shuster? I’d imagine because it probably shows the myth up to be just that, a myth.

Siegel and Shuster deserved better. Their heirs deserve better. It would be nice if one journalist, or one person connected with the film mentioned this rather than repeat the same story which marginalises the creators and their plight into a footnote of a larger story rather than being something that taints the myth.

 

 

 

The Slow Painful Death of the Art of Criticism & How It Hurts Doctor Who

As mentioned last time this week’s final episode of this series of Doctor Who sparked a few things off in my head. This was mainly in the reaction to it online and the fact that the Emperor has no clothes but if you distract people from this you can create a success out of anything as long as people ignore the obvious. From now on there’s spoilers so be warned if you’ve not watched it yet.

Now I’m not talking about enjoying something. I still enjoy Doctor Who most of the time and thought the Neil Gaiman episode last week was excellent, and Mark Gatiss did a great one the week before that which played on the campness of Who while mixing in influences including a large League of Gentlemen one which is always going to get my approval. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy something and notice the huge gaping problems with what you’re watching. I’m talking about that most horrible of things in modern genre fandom, the Squee Factor. Which isn’t to say that people are wrong, but if you’re just sitting there thinking that something is good because it’s ”cool” and it’s what you as a fan want, then all  that’s on the screen is a version of fanwank which is building and building things up but forgets to create drama or characters in order to get what the writer, and a large chunk of the fans want but it doesn’t mean the story or the programme actually needs it.

This creates the defence of ‘but if I love it then it can’t be bad’, or ‘ur a hater!!!’ because when the writer of the programme itself is a fan then the temptation to write professional fanwank is huge and this is the huge gaping hole that Stephen Moffat has written himself into. In creating a programme aimed more and more at the fans as opposed to the populist days of Russell T. Davies (which did end up being tied in knots because of pandering to fans) that’s ended up fetishising the character of the Doctor in a way only a fan of the programme could.

So that’s why The Name of the Doctor isn’t anything more than fanfic writ large on HD screens and funded by license payers rather than banged out online, or in the old days, hammered out on a typewriter then photocopied and distributed as fanzines. I’m not knocking fanfic per say, but when you have an episode made up essentially of actors spouting large unweildy chunks of exposition at each out while the writer hammers home the point that Clara is ‘important’ and the Doctor is the huge mythological figure akin to God, or Allah, or Jebus rather that this weirdo alien bloke going around having adventures. It can’t be as simple as that as producers and writers (many of which were fans growing up) see the character as a HUGE INFLUENCE on EVERYTHING which is really some sort of meta-commentary on how Doctor Who influenced them as children and children tend to make influential figures in their lives bigger than they actually are so that’s why we end up with the Doctor being this massive figure in all of creation which makes people think it’s all grown up and dark and stuff.

In reality it takes away from the core of the character in that he was one of many of his people who escaped the cloying nature of his people to do good because he wanted to escape. He was a drop out created just before the idea of a drop out became part of the sixties culture on both sides of the Atlantic, so the Doctor was this rebellious figure saying ‘fuck you’ to the establishment  even though he was sometimes part of that same establishment. In fact the entire first year of the Jon Pertwee era rams this point home as he’s constantly trying to run away like a child would if they were unhappy with their family and I found that amazingly powerful when I started watching the Pertwee era when I was a kid because things weren’t all bread and roses when I was growing up, so what I’m saying is that I’m as much as a screaming fanboy as anyone. I am able however to spot steaming shite when it’s served up to me.

This is where we have a little diversion and I have to recommend going off and reading the TV criticism of Clive James. In particular I remember reading The Crystal Bucket around the age of 15 or so thanks to an English teacher who tried to spark some ember of writing skill I must have shown in school but never properly did anything about. It’s a fantastic book and James is the best critic of television I’ve read apart from Harlan Ellison. His essays collected in The Glass Teat are spectacular and comparing both James and Ellison’s criticism compared to say, Sam Wollaston’s barely literate ramblings in The Guardian shows you just how lost the skill of criticism has become in the media.

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Go read this stuff. It’s important and it shows you how to do it rather than recapping the synopsis, adding a funny line, adopting a popular stance, then moving on.

When you have a programme written by fans, for fans and criticised by fans (normally along the lines of ‘this was awesome’ or ‘squeeeeeee’) in the newspapers, online and on fansites, genuine criticism becomes swallowed up in the fight to get heard. Part of this is people who genuinely did enjoy it, and I’ve no real problem with them. Part are people bandwagon jumping trying to get in on what’s ‘cool’ or just parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere and a large part are people desperately trying to be heard so they can get a paid job in the media and this last one causes problems because this is generally where all critical facilities tend to go out the window.

See, it’s very hard to seriously criticise what might be a future employer, or something you want to work on should be lucky enough to do so. This leads to the horrible situation of the sort of soft criticism you see especially on comic sites like a Bleeding Cool or CBR because you don’t want to lose those exclusive interviews, the review copies, the access to professionals and all the other stuff that you really want to get involved with rather than actually write criticism. You want your cake and eat it, or indeed, gorge on it. If you’re really lucky you might get a job with Marvel or DC Comics, and that might lead to working for a TV production company, or a TV channel or a film studio and then you’re quids in. It’s a means to an end rather than a goal in itself so it suppresses real criticism so rather than reading about how Moffat doesn’t seem to understand anymore how to form a drama in it’s own right, you just read thousands of versions of ‘squeeeeeee’.

Which brings us to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and a storyline which has been building for years, or at least the consensus is it’s been building for years rather than being thrown together and made up on the hoof as some of it clearly looks like it has because everyone is so intent to make things HUGE and EPIC like a fan would that they’ve forgotten that the best drama is made up of what people can relate to and simply put, you can’t relate to a God. You can relate to someone breaking free of a cloying establishment and doing good things to help people, but a God who is so important we can’t even know his name or something bad will happen somewhere to everyone isn’t a relatable hook, so it all becomes fanfic. It all becomes about rushing from one scene to the next so someone can spout another huge bit of exposition and the Doctor acts like a cretin because that’s how some people growing up saw the character, and it plays well in the US.

Creating good, populist drama is hard. Creating good criticism is hard. It involves hard work, research and an education and by that I don’t mean a degree, but a knowledge of television, how it works, writing, dramatic structure and of the world generally rather than just recycling what you know. It also takes a will to demand quality be it Doctor Who, or Eastenders or anything because why should the audience accept rubbish because it throws some bones to the fans who will watch it regardless of quality. Spouting exposition at each other isn’t drama. Telling us in huge unsubtle strokes that a character is Very Important isn’t creating a human drama, it’s just demoting female characters on the programme to plot points rather than people as it’s only the female characters who act as these important plot points. It’s odd, and there’s a weird feel about seeing female characters who only exist as a puzzle for the Doctor to solve rather than being people in their own right which says something about what’s rattling inside Moffat’s head.

Really though the point of this rambling nonsense isn’t to have a pop at a popular programme, or fanboys or anything that ”haters are going to hate” but to demand quality and honesty rather than shouting ‘squeee’ at the screen every five minutes because the script has spat out another piece of fan service.

And it’s not just Who that suffers from it. It’s virtually everything genre related out there because production companies and film studios do their market research online which means they encounter the hardcore fan, and when something new or different is proposed to try to widen the appeal/audience you get fans tied up in knots complaining how it’s not ”their” version of the character, or just plain outright misogyny or racism.

I want Doctor Who to thrill, excite and challenge me like it did when I was watching all those great Robert Holmes stories, or even a return to the quality Moffat is clearly capable of.  As said, it’s still fun to watch most of the time but it’s fell into a hole of it’s own making by building up everything to a huge and massive scale that the drama is lost in the twists and turns of the plot. All the likes of Moffat is doing is just eating the history of the programme and spewing it out but bigger and more epic and this is the final point. Fans want their programmes or genre fiction to be more epic and big and huge and massive and enormous, but there’s a point where you can’t go anywhere else and this isn’t helped by the feed of uncritical, or basically crap criticism.

Saying something is ‘shit’ or ‘sucks’ isn’t criticism. It’s just an opinion. Saying something is ‘cool’ or ‘fun’ isn’t criticism. It’s just an opinion. Far too often that’s what we get as criticism and frankly it’s shite…………

Next time, something else……

Good Lord! Choke!!

I’m still working on what is becoming a bloody huge blog about UKCAC that’s spanning 12 years and it’s getting a bit out of hand, so I’ve decided to separate the GLASCAC part of UKCAC’s history for a separate series as it was getting too big for it’s boots. Also, working at the Bristol Expo at the weekend meant more and more tales were remembered so I’m going back over things and adding in stuff.

However a few stories don’t fit in anywhere and are so grotesque they sound like sketches from Blue Jam. Be warned, don’t go on if you’re at all squeamish…..

The first story is of Siegi’s Comics who were based in Canterbury in Kent. The shop was run by a pair of brothers, and named after the eldest, Siegi. Both brothers made morbidly obese American’s look like Posh Spice. This is a fact you need to remember…

I knew them because they used to do the various London markets and of course, UKCAC. They were harmless enough but the general consensus was at the time that how on earth they weren’t dropping dead of heart attacks as they’d turn up to say, the Camden comic  mart, set up and proceed to demolish as much fast food as possible.

Then they vanished from the scene and the shop closed sometime in the late 90’s with nobody knowing what exactly happened to them. Thankfully Justin Ebbs of Just Comics filled us in with the full story one day while we were setting up at a London mart, possibly even a UKCAC….

Seigi had died of a heart attack. This came as zero shock, but what happened when he had his heart attack did as you see, when Seigi had his heart attack he was standing at the time so he collapsed on his haunches as the weight of his body split him in two so he disemboweled himself as he died.

Now I have no proof this is real and Justin was known for the teller of tall tales and Google doesn’t have all the information on the planet so file this under ‘skeptical’.

The second tale is real, and the facts are all so very true as we move from Kent to New York for the tale of George Caragonne.

Caragonne was another morbidly obese person who was desperate to get into comics. Now that’s the reality for 95% of people reading comics in that they will never, ever do anything in the world of comics. That’s why I count myself in being extraordinarily lucky in falling into the world of comics, but for most people it’s a dream as you either have to be very fucking lucky or work like a total bastard, sometimes it’s a mixture of both and yes, I’m ignoring the horrible nepotism and misogyny in parts of mainstream superhero comics because that’s for another time.

Anyhow, back to Caragonne. He was working in a number of crap jobs and somehow managed to blag himself his way into the industry due to Jim Shooter giving him work for some of Marvel Comics lesser titles and their children’s comics in the 80’s. One version of this is that Shooter felt sorry for him and decided to cut him a break. For those who know Shooter’s story that’s possible but realistically Caragonne probably had enough to convince Shooter he was a reasonable talent and gave him a job. Whatever the reason, he found himself in the comics industry and in one of those massive instances of luck I mentioned he managed to meet Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse and a very, very, very rich man.

Somehow Caragonne convinced Guccione to start doing soft porn comics firstly for Penthouse, then as a separate line of comics and they were very, very successful for the short period of time they were around.

Problem was that Caragonne was suddenly rocketed from a world of comic book geekdom into that of millionaires and porn, so he developed habits and built up a world of debt which is admirable when the story was he was getting paid a six figure salary. To help supplement his income the rumour was he started dealing coke using the Penthouse Comics office as a base, not to mention ”borrowing” money from Guccione without ever having the intention of paying it back.

Eventually his employers sussed all this out, fired him on the spot and this pushed Caragonne over the edge, which considering by now this already sketchy person was a massive coke user suffering from mental illness this was not a good thing.

One day he decided to go to Times Square in New York and went into the Marriott Marquis hotel.

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He entered the hotel. Asked if it was true that this was the tallest building in Times Square, to which he was told by staff it was, so he took the lift to the top to the atrium. Here he stuck on his Walkman headphones, put on a tape featuring film themes including the James Bond theme, stuck his face in a massive bag of coke and jumped off the ledge to plunge 45 floors to what he probably hoped was a quick and painless death.

Problem was that as he jumped, his arm and head were torn off when he hit part of the building on the way down which meant he died quickly but painfully however the worst is yet to come.

Caragonne’s head, arm and body landed on the glass roof of a restaurant on the ground which was full of families enjoying a buffet spread while watching Caragonne’s head with it’s wide-open eyes slid gorily on the glass roof. To say that people were traumatised is an understatement.

Now for years, we’d passed this story off as one of Justin’s Tall Tales. We brought it up this weekend as one, until a few hours ago I remembered to Google it and found that Caragonne has a Wikipedia page and there’s also this post which confirms much of the story.

Who said comics were boring?

So after all that here’s some satire for a bit of light relief.

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Bitter Sweet Symphony part five/ The Great British Comic Distribution Wars.

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

We’ve covered a wide series of events in this series of blogs so far, but the defining part of the late 80’s/early 90’s is the battle between Titan and Neptune for the comic book distribution king of the country. The effects of this are felt today.

Before I get stuck in, I really strongly recommend reading the first four parts of this series. They’re pretty essential to getting the bits of backstory and I hate repeating myself. This isn’t going to be a history of Neptune Comic Distribution as I’m saving that for another series of blogs, but just the battle between Titan and Neptune and the longer lasting effects of that battle.

So, let’s start with a recap of how Neptune registered on Titan’s radar after getting DC’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel into shops before them. They really started to get Titan’s notice when they started gaining lots, and lots of their custom through 1986 and into 1987, which meant that Titan lost part of big shops like AKA, Gosh!, Comic Showcase, Sheffield Space Centre and virtually all of the Virgin Megastore business in all of Virgin’s branches as well as medium sized shops like Negative Zone in Newport, or Talisman in Belfast.

Titan still had the majority of the distribution business in the UK, but it’d went from having 100% in 1986 to probably 70-80% by the start of 1988 with Neptune making more and more inroads into Titan’s market.

By the time I moved to Leicester and started working for Neptune in January 1988 the plan was to aggressively take more business. I would run the proposed Manchester warehouse, head office with still be in Leicester and Martin (one of the three partners) would run the London warehouse. We also had Tod Borleske, a former employee of Diamond Comic Distributors we’d nicked working in our New York warehouse based in Brooklyn. Essentially the idea was to have total coverage of the UK and with Tod in New York making valuable connections with Marvel Comics and DC Comics we’d be peachy.

Except it didn’t turn out like that. The Manchester warehouse had fallen through which utterly gutted me as it was just down the road from the famous Hacienda nightclub, and seeing as I was slowly drifting into that scene I was overjoyed at this.

The warehouse was on the right hand side of the picture about 300 yards from where the Hacienda (now a block of yuppie flats) is, and just past the lights.

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This put a halt to Neptune’s northern expansion, but it didn’t stop us acting quickly when Forbidden Planet opened in Glasgow. What I deliberately neglected to mention in my earlier blog was the fact that Geoff, Tod (who was visiting from the US) and myself drove from Leicester to Glasgow and back in a day to firm up a deal where AKA would give us 80% of their business.

We made this deal with John McShane and Pete Root over shark steak and beer in the Blackfriars pub which was a frequent haunt of the AKA Crowd and somewhere we knew the FP lot wouldn’t come to as things were frosty at this point to say the least. Word of this meeting got out (like I’ve said, comic shop owners love to gossip)  and this set people’s noses twitching but we pulled similar meeting with Paul Hudson at Comic Showcase in London and Josh Palmano of Gosh!. We’d also managed to get 100% of the Virgin Megastore business thanks to the chronic mismanagement of Paul Coppin who ran not just the Virgin shops, but Fantastic Store on London’s Portobello Road which was at that time an amazing place, and not the santised middle class playground of today.

I have to take a diversion for a second to tell a wee story about Paul. He was generally quite rubbish with business, and on more than one occasion I was there to help pick up thousands of pounds in cash so he could get his bills up to date. You know the measure of a man as he’s counting out silver in order to keep his businesses going for another week. Anyhow, I’d completely forgotten about Paul til one day in 2001 I saw an item on the news about planespotters from the UK being nicked in Greece and who should pop up but Paul. It was his company which organised that trip and it came as no surprise to me that he’d royally cocked it up. When he was being interviewed on TV he had that same sad, bathetic look he had when we were boxing up all the money he could get to pay his bills.

But I digress….

Neptune was the feisty young thing kicking the heels of Titan and here’s the thing; I’m 90% positive (I had three different people with close connections to Titan, Mike Lake and Nick Landau tell me this) the aggressive expansion of the FP chain was to help Titan claw back some of it’s lost market which led me to mention to Geoff one day as we were driving back from a shipment in London that Titan and FP being so interlinked was a massive conflict of interest. This set Geoff’s brain ticking.

By this time Neptune had bought Fantasy Advertiser, the UK’s leading comics magazine, but what Geoff really wanted was it’s then editor Martin Skidmore had in contacts withing the creative comics community, and of course his reputation for honesty as the plan to launch a line of small press comics under the banner of Trident Comics were well underway by the time I joined and they were quite successful.

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That’s the first issue of our anthology title we did. Isn’t that a lovely cover by John Ridgeway? I will include a history of Trident when I do a history of Neptune, but again I digress…

The point is that we had Fantasy Advertiser (FA), which was the only thing Titan bought from us as their shops wanted it. So this meant that Geoff decided to stick a huge editorial on the inside of one issue titled ”conflict of interest?” using exactly the same font and design of the Lloyds Bank ads of the same time.It was something Martin didn’t want to run but he didn’t have a choice. If anyone reading this has a scan of it I’d love to add it to this blog, so please drop me a line if you do.

It ran and that issue of FA went in FP Glasgow, London and every Titan customer in the UK. We got phone calls from Mike Lake, Jim Hamilton and several other dealers who called Geoff and everyone at Neptune all the fucking cunts under the sky.Fine. The lines had been drawn and I was quite happy standing on the Neptune side.

Throughout 1988 we pulled stunts as pointed out in Part Three of this series to help AKA in it’s fight with FP, but we did similar stunts with other shops like Comic Showcase and Gosh! to get them their comics before Titan dropped off their copies.

This is where it gets dirty because there used to be two vans wizzing round London dropping off comics; one from Neptune and one from Titan. I did the London drop many a time normally with Martin, but occasionally with Geoff and it’d see us pull some truly amazing and illegal stuff such as screaming round Soho Square to cut off the Titan van, or tailgating behind an ambulance up Tottenham Court Road to get from the West End of London to Camden in the quickest time ever to drop off at Mega City Comics.

It was dangerous, risky, stupid and daft. We’d picked a fight with a much larger company who was connected and had the power of a growing retail chain behind it. But we were eating away at Titan and more importantly, most of the time it was enormous fun to prick the rather pompous nature of Titan and many of those connected with it. I actually remember being in tears laughing as we burned up the Titan van on Friday afternoon, and in fact I still had tears running down my face when I got to Kilburn to meet mates at the Bull and Gate for a gig later that night.

The whole thing was bloody huge fun from the summer of 1988 through to the summer of 1990, but the best, and possibly most lasting strike against Titan was one of the most massive fuck ups by any company I’ve seen.

In summer 1989 Tim Burton’s Batman film was the biggest thing ever in the history of everything.

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This meant that for comics the exposure was huge, and in fact probably the biggest the medium had ever had in decades. Now I’ve heard from younger comic fans on message boards and in person that this film ‘wasn’t a big deal’. or ‘it wasn’t as big as The Avengers‘. This is of course, utter steaming heaps of hairy bollocks. Batman was a huge cultural event that seeped into virtually everyone’s consciousnesses to such a degree you couldn’t avoid seeing the Bat Symbol everywhere and this was in the UK, In the US everyone seemed to have the Batman logo on them.

Because of this DC Comics decided to capitalise by releasing a Batman comic, or a comic with Batman in it, every single week and most weeks you’d have two or three titles with Batman related stuff in it. Things were huge! If you had any comic related business in that summer it was a license to print money. You. Could. Not. Fuck. Up.

Titan did.

Batman opened in the UK on a humid Friday in August 1989. There wasn’t any particularly big Batman comic that week from what I remember, but I do remember there being a load of titles from Marvel and DC, as well as a load of independents. I’d also asked to stay in London instead of going back to Leicester that night so I could hang around Leicester Square and I’d arranged to go out clubbing with my girlfriend of sorts in London that night before going back to Leicester the next day as we’d planned a Neptune outing to the local cinema in Leicester to see Batman.

Everything that day was pretty normal, we started our van drop in London around 2ish and dropped off at Comic Showcase first where we were told that Titan wasn’t delivering that day because they’d given everyone the day off to go and see the Batman film. Martin and myself couldn’t quite believe it so we called Geoff in Leicester on the carphone and asked if he’d heard anything and he hadn’t. By the time we dropped off at Gosh! the word was that nobody in London, or in fact, anywhere in the UK the next day were going to get their Friday comics. In one massively insane move Titan handed us a huge amount of business as on the Monday we had shop after shop contacting us to increase their orders with us, and also we won several bits of new business all because Titan were just bloody daft.

The following month was UKCAC, the UK’s main comic convention (I’m going to do a rundown of all the UKCAC’s and GLASCAC’s I attended) which saw Geoff and Mike Lake being cold to each other, while I ran around the con like a total lunatic having the sheer time of my life and in fact if there’s one weekend I would love to relive it’s that weekend. I got a few sly digs at the FP Glasgow lot, took the piss out of Mike Lake and was pretty damn spectacular all weekend. Going home on the Sunday saw me laughing all the way back in Geoff’s car with him as we told each other of how much petty fuckwittery we’d pulled to piss off Titan.

At the first GLASCAC the following April, it was a similar story. I remember vividly standing in George Square in the glorious spring sun smelling the flowers and thinking ‘this is fucking brilliant!’ as I spoke with Andy Sweeney, one of the new generation of the AKA Crowd.

Then after that things went wrong. Geoff pushed forward with Toxic! too early as he was now intent to take on Titan Books, which left me effectively running the Leicester warehouse, while Tod was trying to keep Diamond on our side in the US and we were really starting to notice that Geoff was shagging the female members of staff which was causing a fair amount of tension in the office.

I left in autumn 1990, went to work for Comic Showcase in London, and royally fucked things up before moving back to Leicester just before Christmas and completely fucked things up but I was still observing what was happening with Neptune.

Geoff was losing control. Without being too big headed he lost a lot of good people in a six month period and didn’t replace them with better people while he was bleeding the distribution part of the business to pay for the publishing side which was going down the tubes thanks to Geoff not listening to people like Pat Mills (I will tell the story about Pat turning up at Neptune demanding payment another time) and John Wagner.

Neptune struggled on for a year or so before dying in 1992 when Geoff sold it to Diamond.

Titan was also bought by Diamond.

So the winner of the Great British Comic Distribution War wasn’t Titan or Neptune, it was Diamond. They got themselves a nice monopoly of the UK market and that’s ended up with the depressing reality that they control what’s being sold. You don’t have Trident Comics, or companies taking risks. It’s all safe. It’s all about money and you don’t have anyone willing to take Diamond on as they have the market, not to mention DC and Marvel and you as a shop aren’t going to have a business if you don’t sell their comics.

What could have been so much better, and for a time if was glorious. I’ll tell you the full tale of the Rise and Fall of Neptune another time, but this is the point; we died not because of Titan but because of ourselves.

But dear bloody god, how that time especially between 1989 and 1990 shone like the sun on the first day of your school holidays during summer. I would do anything, really, anything, to get that time back. there’s times in my life I want back, and this is one of them. Again though, I will go into detail soon enough as to the full details but fuck me, I long for them.

Moving on, we get near the end of Bitter Sweet Symphony. Only two more parts to go.

Next up: The Great Bristol Comic Shop Wars……..

Bitter Sweet Symphony part two/ Battle of the Planets

Last time I outlined a brief history of comic shops in Glasgow which is really a small part of a larger story about the rise of the direct market in the UK as more and more specialist comic and SF/fantasy shops grew across the country. Now there’s better people than me who have outlined the death of the newsstand market in the US and the history of the direct market as a whole in the US.

The UK direct market was slightly different in that American comics were still available in newsagents til the late 90’s thanks to Comag and Moore Harness, who finally kicked the bucket four years ago. The direct market was different in that you finally got the non distributed comics that were so hard to get in the UK, and you got them relatively cheaply so this is where there was a gap in the market and with Titan Distributors you had the first organised distribution system across the UK as opposed to the patchy methods of getting comics in directly to the UK in previous decades that was at the whim of the major companies like Marvel or DC.

There was also the problem that there was a lot of crooks in the distribution game so it was a front to launder money for gangsters or to distribute porn, which was the case in the US as well as here in the UK, but the point we pick things up here is the early 80’s when Titan Distributors are the main supplier to comic shops across the UK. That wasn’t to say we’re talking the million pound industry we have today. There was probably only two or three dozen shops across the UK by the middle of the 80’s, not counting the Virgin Megastore comic shops which sold comics and magazines like Fangoria to the record buying public.

Titan had a nice monopoly in that in those days in that you had to buy from them even though there were more than a few dealers voicing concerns that there could well be a conflict of interest as Mike Lake and Nick Landau who owned Titan, also owned Forbidden Planet in London and should they want, they could easily open FP’s across the country selling comics at less than any other shop.

But they didn’t. Lake and Landau both made it clear often that they wouldn’t open a shop where they had an existing Titan customer, so that ruled out Glasgow, Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and basically every major British city.

The only problem as I mentioned in passing in the first part that Titan deliveries would turn up a week or so after being released in the US, which wasn’t a huge problem in those pre-internet days but deliveries would often turn up with comics that the SF Bookshop in Edinburgh would get but AKA in Glasgow wouldn’t and vice-versa. Then there was the fact Titan could charge what they wanted within reason seeing as they had a monopoly and this meant American distributors looked at the UK with envious eyes, and slowly and surely they made their plans against Titan.

Mile High Comics made some attempts to distribute directly to shops in the UK, but the problem was they didn’t have a warehouse in the UK, so you ordered directly from their warehouse in the US and they packaged and shipped to the UK. This was basically what some dealers had been doing with them prior to Titan anyhow, but they opened the door before Bud Plant Comics made some attempts to piece the UK market and based on the West Coast of the US, they had a little bit more success but again, without a UK warehouse they were fighting a lost cause. Titan just made sure they didn’t fuck up, or put their prices up too high in case it alienated customers.

This changed when Neptune Distribution came on the scene in 1986. Neptune was set up by three students at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) who lived at 67 Barclay Street (more on this address another time) by the name of Geoff Fry, Sarah Hunter and Martin, who’s last name completely and utterly escapes me. It was Geoff though who was the comics geek, while Sarah and Martin were not readers. Sarah and Geoff were also seeing each other which is not important at the minute.

Geoff was the mastermind behind the operation and considering it was run out of their small living room in Barclay Street, they had a base of operations not to mention Geoff was smart enough to make contact with Bud Plant in the same way that Lake and Landau had made a connection with Phil Seuling’s Seagate Distributing at the start of Titan’s operation in the UK. This meant that Neptune could shift comics quickly and store some stock in what became the stock room, or normally, one of the bedrooms upstairs as Sarah and Geoff now shared a room.

The main problem for Neptune wasn’t to capitalise on Titan’s flaws, but to convince shops they weren’t a a risk or unreliable like the few other  distributors who tried to break Titan’s monopoly. The break was John Byrne’s Man of Steel, which was DC’s big Superman relaunch in 1986.

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Neptune managed to get this title to the few shops it had as customers three days before Titan. It sounds like no big deal at all, but it helped from stopping people go to the competition in either Glasgow or Edinburgh in AKA’s case. It was a nice way of getting one up that one of the biggest comics of the year was on sale before anyone else had it.

Neptune used that success to grow the business and they gained shops in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leicester, Sheffield, and across the UK fairly quickly over a period of 8-12 months as the direct market erupted after a huge amount of mainstream publicity over creators like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, and work like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Maus. Shops were springing up everywhere and there was a battle starting to brew between Neptune (the bright young challenger) and Titan (the undisputed champion) mainly to gain business but Geoff had it in his head to take on Mike Lake due to the fact he’d went away after a meeting with him utterly hating him. Plus this was the 80’s and the height of Thatcherism so Geoff wanted to crush Mike Lake because he was more successful than him.

By the end of 1987 Neptune had grown and was continuing to grow as they moved from the house on Barclay Street to a warehouse in Enderby, just on the outskirts of Leicester and near the M1. This was Neptune’s big advantage over Titan in that they could reach the shops in the Midlands and North of England quicker than Titan who only did van deliveries to London shops while Neptune did van deliveries not only to London shops, but across the Midlands.

When I moved to Leicester and started work for Neptune the intention was not for me to stay there, but go to run a Manchester warehouse which would supply the North of England and Scotland, while Leicester would supply the Midlands, and the London warehouse in Staines  would supply London and the South East. There was also a vague plan to expand Neptune’s US operation which was at that time, sharing a Bud Plant warehouse in Brooklyn in New York.

The situation at the start of 1988 is Neptune eating away at Titan’s market, with Titan trying to get as much of it back as possible while Mike Lake and Nick Landau still saying that FP will not expand outside of London to any city or town where there’s an existing Titan customer.

So we’re up to the point in 1988 where Geoff comes into the office shouting  at me saying ‘what the fuck do you know about Forbidden Planet opening in Glasgow?’…..

Next time, the Glasgow Comic Shop Wars….