Is a monopoly on comics distrbution in the UK a good thing?

‘Geek’ culture is an a zenith right now with comics now seen all over the place, but back in the distant days of the 1980’s things were different. Comics were still very much a minority medium, and the comic book a niche product for mainly children and collectors; however by the late 80’s the seeds of today’s ‘Geek’ culture were sown when the UK’s direct market exploded after the boom created by work such as Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and in the run-up to Tim Burton’s Batman film, the industry hit what was considered by some at the time, as a peak.

Before I go on it is best to explain things in a bit more detail which may get a wee bit dry so stick with me here. The direct market in the UK took years to build up as comic shops slowly appeared (albeit normally as parts of a wider SF/fantasy bookshop) during the 1970’s in cities like London, Bristol and Edinburgh. In the early 1980’s comic shops started to really spring up with the growth of the American direct market, thanks partly to Titan Distributors ensuring there was a distributor of American comics based in the UK. In the mid-1980’s a number of competitors to Titan sprung up so there was nothing like the monopoly we have today where you only get your new comics via Diamond Comic Distributors.

American distributors like Bud Plant and Mile High dabbled with direct distribution to UK shops, but the issue was one of logistics. It wasn’t til American distributor Glenwood Distributing started air-freighting comics direct from the printers that it became possible to consider actually beating Titan at their game as they just relied mainly on sea-freight, or shipping comics from a third party outwith the printer. For the UK this meant that from 1985 onwards there were a number of distributors pushing to break Titan’s grip on what was a growing market in the UK, however it was Neptune Distribution run by Geoff Fry based in Leicester that broke the deadlock. As an ex-employee I go into details of Neptune’s history here, so go read those blogs for a more in-depth history of Neptune’s rise and fall, but what is important here is that by 1987 Neptune were knocking great big chunks out of Titan’s grip on the UK market.

Here’s where I get to something that’s a tad controversial. Titan and Forbidden Planet were linked by having the same owners in Mike Lake and Nick Landau creating an obvious conflict of interest. After all,how do you stop a distributor delivering to your customer base first potentially taking more business away from your company? Simple solution; start expanding the Forbidden Planet chain. This ended up causing a battled between Neptune and Titan that I outlined here. Then the editorial below was published in Fantasy Advertiser, published by Neptune and sold in Forbidden Planet. This was written solely by Geoff Fry but to this day I stand by the jist of it.

neptune-conflict-of-interest

When Mike Lake apparently read this in FP’s store then in New Oxford Street, apparently he went off his head with rage because this one editorial nailed the problem with having a distributor also acting as a retailer. They could use what should be confidential information to buy a business advantage in an area and they could unfairly compete with other shops by offering prices at wholesale prices (this happened when FP opened in Bristol in 1993) ensuring they undercut the competition. It should also be pointed out that publishers were not aware of this conflict of interest. I know of at least three retailers who pointed out to people from DC and Marvel what was going on, including one case where Mike Lake was asked to leave a DC retailers meeting when it was pointed out he also represented a distributor.

As I’ve outlined in my blogs Neptune did what it could to try to level the playing field but after Neptune’s implosion and subsequent purchase by Diamond the UK market started to be, frankly, less diversified than it is now to the point of being less adventurous. The reason for this is simple. Once Titan/FP had its hands round the neck of the market it squeezed so smaller titles that they or ourselves at Neptune may have taken on were dropped. Some shops also couldn’t compete with having a wholesaler who also acted as their main competitor which led to shops closing across the UK in the 90’s which to be fair wasn’t just the fault of FP/Titan as the speculator bubble of the 90’s burst taking a lot of people and businesses with it. In 1992 after swallowing up the corpse of Neptune, Diamond bought out Titan leaving the UK market to be served by one distributor deciding what they stock which in effect unnaturally shapes the market in the same way that say, having Virgin Trains running a train network on the basis of profit unnaturally shapes the market.

The title of this blog asks if a monopoly on comics distribution a good thing? It clearly isn’t. We’ve seen an industry grow beyond belief in the last decade with ‘geek’ culture being smeared everywhere yet the retail market in the UK has been shaped in the most unnatural way to barely any yelp from most of the so-called ‘journalists’ of the British comics scene who are more interested in self-progression so for decades have let this rotting sore in the industry fester. True, one or two have touched on this in the past and the Forbidden Planet situation but it remains one of those things that folk like me talk about in bars and coffee shops with others of our generation wistfully wondering why it all went so wrong when it could have went so right.

For me a more diverse, interesting industry comes with wholesalers who will play fair let alone taking risks as we’re now in a state where the Diamond catalogue is a minefield of variant covers and tedious new superhero comics with little new or exciting because once a monopoly is secure you can do anything. Yes, shops like Page 45 in Nottingham and Gosh! in London do what they can to show the comics industry is a diverse thing, but while there’s only one distributor we have a situation where any diversity is hard to find and if you’re a small press publisher then it can be a struggle to be discovered. Although digital helps for some, it doesn’t for most which means for new British talent it’s either hoping 2000AD accept you, or but some stroke of talent/luck your comic finds a market because as sure as shit isn’t likely that Diamond will distribute your book or FP will bother to stock it.

It’s impossible to turn back the clock but it is possible for the future to be changed. How that changes depends on what we all do as fans if we’re fed up of a monolithic monopoly controlling distribution. I’m not offering solutions here, but consider this a call for people to consider what’s best for the future as at some point this bubble is going to burst as all bubbles do and for our industry to remain interesting and diverse we need to shake the system up in a way that shifts power from the large corporations to the independent retailers, the creators and the fans or the future is bland, boring and fucked.

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What I thought of Savior #1

savior

Around 25 years ago I worked for a comics distribution company in the UK called Neptune Distribution, and we had a publishing arm called Trident Comics. By far our most successful comic was Mark Millar’s very first printed work, Saviour.

saviour1-markmillar

 

Saviour’s plot was that the Antichrist was real, pretending to be Jesus Christ born again and just happened to be the planet’s only superhero as after all, Christ has super powers really, so Mark just played with that idea over Saviour’s all too short run.

So here I am having a shufty through this weeks comics and I see a comic written by Todd McFarlane with Brian Holguin called Savior with this synopsis attached to it.

What if the MOST DANGEROUS man on Earth was also the one trying to do the MOST GOOD?

The world is real. The people are normal. And then he appears! A man appears with no background, no memory, and no place to call home. But he has powers. Powers that seem resemble those we learned about in Sunday School. Could it be?! Is it possible that this man is much, much more than that? Is it possible that he is our “SAVIOR” in the flesh? And if he is, then why doesn’t he know who he is or how he got his powers?

Strip away the spandex and trappings of the traditional comic superhero and ask yourself a simple question: “How would I react if GOD suddenly appeared in front of me, but everything we had been taught about him seems out of whack?” What you would have left, beyond your own doubts, is the presence of a man who has to deal with the fact that his appearance in the world is seen as both a blessing and a curse.

Some will see him as a hero, a messiah. Other will see him as an enemy because there isn’t room for a person with god-like powers to disrupt the status quo of what we already believe. Some will rally behind him. Others will denounce him. But none of us will be able to ignore him.

It isn’t quite Mark’s tale, but it’s the same basic idea, so I threw caution to the wind and bought it off Comixology to give it a go. As a comic, it’s pretty dreadful. Yes, the art by Clayton Crain is fine but there’s pages of Claremontesque speech balloons that simply are just endless amounts of poorly written exposition that thinks it’s trying to be Warren Ellis but isn’t.

savior1

It also suffers from the cardinal sin of too many modern mainstream comics in that it’s got one eye on a film/TV adaptation as it flows from opening exposition into the first big action scene and really, by this point I don’t really care. None of the characters we’ve been introduced to are anything but flat one-dimensional people, and the interesting idea quickly hits beats that anyone that’s seen the Nic Cage film Knowing will be familiar with.

In reality both McFarlane and Millar too the same idea and executed it differently, and yes, it’s hard to really judge a series after one issue but I can’t be arsed wading through cliches when to be honest, Mark’s Saviour of 25 years ago is still more interesting and it’s dated dreadfully.

If you really want to see the idea of a born again Christ in the modern age done well then I highly recommend Russell T. Davies’s The Second Coming that he wrote for ITV in 2003 and starred Christopher Eccleston. It’s a better, more entertaining, deeper, less cliched, dreary and obvious than this effort here from McFarlane.

Whatever happened to the London Comic Marts?

Once upon a time in a time far, far away, comics were still the preserve of boys to men who liked spandex clad musclemen hitting each other and things seemed good. Groups of these people, known as ‘fans’ would get together to buy comics from dealers at things called ‘marts’, held normally in old Victorian buildings, or in areas where electricity seemed like a recent discovery.

Living in Glasgow during the 1970’s I’d see ads for comic marts in far away exotic lands like London, Liverpool and Birmingham. I remember one of the early Alan Austin/Justin Ebbs price guides (FF #1 for only 200 quid!) that featured ads for something weird and wonderful called ”The Westminster Comic Mart’.

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For me sitting in Glasgow this all seemed amazingly exciting, and as I’ve blogged before, marts did eventually come to Glasgow, and I eventually went to a convention in England. The London marts were out of reach for the time being and although I did go to a UKCAC in 1987 (in retrospect, this was a life changing event as it resulted in me moving from Glasgow to, err, Leicester five months later) it wasn’t the one day marts.

This is where for those people who come now to conventions to cosplay, (or fancy dress as we used to say back in the day) or buy toys or find out about the new superhero film, or even more amazingly, buy comics will be wondering what the deal is?

Marts and conventions are different beasts. Marts are one-day events where the main focus is buying comics, though there may be the odd signing. Conventions are the Full Monty: talks, films, previews, portfolio viewings, the lot as well as buying comics. Marts are like ultra-concentrated conventions but are really hangovers from the time when there wasn’t enough fans in the country to have the sort of big events that are pretty common across the country.  With sketchy distribution of American comics in the 70’s and early 80’s, marts were often the only way to pick up collectors items without doing a trip to the US, which few collectors could do.  Specialist shops across the country were also not always reliable but they were at the mercy of the distributors, and marts had dealers who’d made links with dealers in the US, or more exotically, had dealers from the US with their funny accents and bad dress sense but almost pristine key Golden Age comics!

In the spring of 1988 I finally managed to get to a Westminster mart. The Westminster mart was the one where creators like Dave Gibbons or Neil Gaiman would pop down for a browse, and you could chat with them in the pub next door to the Westminster Central Hall.

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The Westminster Central Hall today is a grand venue sitting near the Houses of Westminster, but in the 80’s it was a little bit shabby just like most of the country was back then. London wasn’t this ridiculously wealthy city sucking the lifeblood out of everywhere else and it was still a great city.

Anyhow, the marts here were focused not just on the Central Hall, but a nearby pub, The Westminster Arms. This is where punters and creators would mix, and indeed, it’s where people’s careers in comics started. These marts were genuine events and as made clear in this rather evocative blog, people waited eagerly for them because there was nothing else out there on the pre-internet days, especially if you lived in a town or city without a decent comic shop. People saved up and came to these Westminster marts just as I’d seen people save up and come from all over the central belt of Scotland for the Glasgow marts.

Backing up the Westminster Marts were the Camden Marts which were held in a shitty hall, opposite a shitty pub just over the road from King Cross/St. Pancras Station which was an exceptionally shitty area. These were held on a Sunday as opposed to Westminster which was held normally on a Saturday. These were a wee bit more sedate, but still extraordinary busy.

But back though to that spring on 1988 when I went to my first London mart at Westminster. I was working for Neptune Comic Distributors at the time, and I’d been sent down on a reconnaissance mission to scout out any potential new business. It was also an excuse to buy some comics, mingle with the crowds and have a few beers with some mates (including John McShane from AKA Books & Comics which is where I’d been before moving to Leicester) from Glasgow who were down for the mart.

Walking into that hall on that spring morning was immense. Not only were there vast walls of people sweating furiously in the spring sunshine, but there were table after table of comics everywhere, and yes, I’d been to UKCAC once, and seen a run of Glasgow marts and the odd convention but nothing like this. There were EC Comics, Golden Age (I saw my first copies of Batman #1 and Superman #1) and stuff I’d never even heard of but looked amazing. There were also pages of original art including Jack Kirby pages for 50 quid!!

It was extraordinary, not to mention utterly brilliant. I’d forgotten about my job of finding new business and had ended up spending too much money, not to mention I’d slowly slipped into the Westminster Arms with McShane and others to drink heavily. To this day, I’m not sure exactly how I got back to Leicester that night!?

Over the next few years, I’d pop to London on one of my frequent visits to take in a mart, buy lots of stuff I didn’t really need, and end up in a pub somewhere in London drinking away merrily. When I’d left Neptune I ended up working with Chris and Maurice, who’d eventually drag me down to Bristol and this gave me years of experiencing what it was like at a London mart on the other side, and although I think I only did one or two Westminster Marts before they died, they were astonishing to work. I remember one where I handed Maurice a wad of cash which must have been around 200 quids worth and this was in the first half hour in the wee bit of table space I was looking after.

My pattern for these marts would be that I either met up with Chris and Maurice in Bristol and would spend a few days sorting out stock, or I’d leave Leicester in the early hours to get to London around 8am. Fuck, that was often quite grim, especially those morning when I’d decided to go clubbing til 2am, or I had to leave a girlfriend in bed so I could sell comics to spotty fanboys. Even when I spent a year in Bristol it was like this. Here’s me looking the worse for wear on one of these trips one summer’s day..

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Note the eyes like pissholes in the snow, and that t-shirt is a long lost Gregory shirt with a design by the great Marc Hempel.

So these trips were fun most of the time, apart from the early starts, loading, unloading and then loading of vans and hours and hours spent in vans or buses to get to London. One time when I was skint and living in Leicester I stupidly hitched down, got picked up by the flatmate of a girl I was sort of seeing and nearly died around Luton when her car had a blowout, and it was only her amazingly good driving that got us to the hard shoulder without serious death.  All this aside, they were often fun examples of male-bonding over huge breakfasts, dreadful tea and coffee, not to mention comics. I never let the boys down at all, except once but I had very good reasons not to go down to London as I was, err, otherwise occupied at the time…

This was pretty much the pattern for much of the 1990’s as I drifted out of working in comics full time and moved into other fields, but I still kept my toe in the water with these marts. By the mid-90’s the marts in London had expanded to include one at the Royal National Hotel and in the TUC building in central London. I’m not revealing any great secret in my dislike of the TUC marts because of the location being singularly crap for a mart, but this was now the only central London mart after the Westminster marts ended which meant it tended to be pretty busy. You’d also see famous face, well, famous faces in the world of comics/pop culture stil. Look, there’s Kim Newman! Look, there’s Alan Davis! Look, there’s Adam Ant!!

Then around 97 or 98 the marts slowed down. Part of that was due to the sheer proliferation of shops in London, but also something called the ”internet” was starting to make inroads into how comics were bought and sold. Of course the great speculator boom of the early 90’s had faded as well, so most of the speculators had bailed with those left being more refined in their habits but one of the hangovers from the boom were the increased amounts of dealers at marts. Now some of these newer dealers were great, most however were rubbish, fans trying to play at running a business, or frankly, complete fucking crooks.

The organisation of some of these marts often led much to be desired at times, the TUC mart especially could descend into farce as dealers didn’t know who was were, or find out they didn’t have tables set up. I’d still have a day out but it’d be often so annoying working at some of these marts which were essentially dead by 2pm when they’d opened at midday. The lack of new blood didn’t help, nor did the amount of, well, seriously fucking creepy blokes not to mention people with little personal hygiene which put passer-by’s off. After all, if you were interested in comics and wanted to have a shufty at a mart would you want to stay somewhere where some people smelled of two week old sweat and semen?

I moved to Bristol again in the summer of 2000 and this initially didn’t stop me from making the early morning trip to London once or twice a month. After a few months though I realised it was wasting my time, as after all, I was making decent money in the job I was in currently, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to and although I enjoyed dipping my toes back in the waters of comics I grew to hate the early starts not to mention the lack of new blood coming in.

See it’s easy now with comic conventions coming out of your ears to think it’s always been like this, but it’s not. This really is still in the early days of a huge explosion that started around 2008 or so and I’ve no idea where this will lead, but in 2001 comics were still a pretty niche hobby, and it was still a hobby, not a ‘culture’ as ‘geek/nerd culture’ seems to be now.

In 2002 I knocked the marts on the head, and only dipped into the world of comics occasionally in the real world, but in the online world I was exploring this new world. It’s here where the reason why the London marts dried up lies as eBay finally stuck the knife into the mart. After all, why bust a vertebrae or two loading comics when you just need a good website with a good eCommerce engine driving it and you can make the same, if not more for vastly less hassle?

I still kept in touch, mainly via Chris who told me how far the marts had fallen and of the disgraces which meant the mart organisers changed hands. In researching this blog I came across this video…

Apart from the fact the Royal National Hotel still has that awful carpet, it’s a sad sight. Middle aged men who were young once because I remember them being so, all walking around looking at mainly awful looking stalls selling comics and crap. It’s got the air of a wake for someone nobody really liked that much. No kids, no young people. Just the same old fans and some of the same old dealers selling comics they’ve been lugging around since the 1980’s.

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.

That said, I’d be sad to see the death of the mart. They do look like glorified car boot sales now, but there’s something warming to me that they still plod on as if the 21st century is but a mere inconvenience. They’re a fading ghost of a time passing away but they still troop on. I like that.

 

Remembering Pete Root

To say that Pete Root was a simply massive part of my youth is an understatement. It’d be like saying ‘my lungs were a massive part of my upbringing’ because quite frankly, Pete was that important, though I never really knew that at the time. Pete Root was a constant figure in the comics scene in Glasgow from the 70’s to the 2000’s, when he sadly passed away in the June of 2007. He shaped not just mine, but dozens of other people’s lives.

Pete was an old Glasgow hippy. He worked for British Rail so traveled round the country which enabled him not only to pick up comics from cities across the UK, but he’d see bands play in their pomp. I especially remember him telling me about attending the Rolling Stones free Hyde Park in 1969, even though at that time (this would be around 1985 or so) I couldn’t really give a toss about 60’s music. Pete was a traveled, intelligent man who like a lot of working class Scots, didn’t immediately look like such a person, but he was.

I first knew of Pete as someone who sold comics in an arcade in Glasgow, so he was part of the circuit I found as a kid of people who’d sell me comics. I didn’t know he was part of a group of comics fans in Glasgow who were trying to bring together a group like a group of science fiction fans in Glasgow had done with the Friends of Kilgore Trout which ended up organising SF conventions for years in the city. One of my brothers was part of this group, so told me that a group of comic fans were trying to get something going but nothing came to pass until the first Glasgow comic marts popped up in the early 1980’s, and it’s at one of these that I first met Pete as he sold me a copy of Warrior #1.

Warrior#1

 

This would be around April or so of 1982, so I’d be around 15, still at school and finding my own way out in the world. I do remember that mart as being in retrospect a sad wee affair with a few dealers trying to sell ratty copies of comics at stupid prices, but at the time it was a glorious thing. Glasgow had it’s own mini-convention to rival those in England that I’d read about in fanzines, but the importance of that first mart is that it brought people together and informed us all that there were more people in the city like us.

The marts in Glasgow became a regular thing, so I would go with what spare money I could get to spend it, normally at Pete’s table as he sold the cheapest comics, but I started seeing what would become familiar faces, and eventually started seeing them in Glasgow’s comic shops in the early 1980’s. I’ve outlined before a brief personal history of Glasgow’s comic shops, so I won’t bore you again with them but I will say that this was an essential time in my life. I’d love to go back to it in many ways but without all the nonsense elsewhere in my life then I had to put up with. Anyhow, eventually I got to know Pete well through AKA Books and Comics, a comic shop owned and run by Pete, with his business partner, John McShane, another influential figure in my life who’ll I’ll speak about in depth another time.

It’s during the years I hung around and worked at AKA that Pete shaped me in a lot of ways. I picked up his healthy cynicism, which has become an essential survival tool, especially in the last few years when things have been quite tough. That cynical attitude has kept me sane. Pete gave me that.

He also showed me that comics were able to be enjoyed by anyone, OK, John showed me comics was an artform (again, more of this another time) but Pete made sure they were something to be loved, and bloody hell, Pete Root loved comics as much as his wife Doreen, or his beloved Morton.

He also eased me into the joys of going to the pub to talk bollocks with mates. Now Pete wasn’t the only person to lure me into a lifetime of hanging around pubs, but sitting there talking about things with Pete as he supped a lager and lime was one of those joys of my teenage years I’d do anything to live again.

Pete wasn’t a replacement father or anything so Eastenders as that, but he was someone who was a father-like figure at a time when I was lacking guidance from elsewhere.  When I got the offer to move to Leicester to work for Neptune Comics Distributors, which meant leaving Glasgow, and everyone in it, far behind me it was Pete who gave me the advice to do it. He’s the one who was honest enough to point out the truth I was sitting on my arse waiting for something to fall into my lap, so when I got the Neptune opportunity I’d be fucking daft not to take it. So I did. Without that wee bit of brutal honesty (and Pete could be brutally honest) I’d have probably hung around missing chance after chance. When I moved to Leicester, I initially went home a lot, as many people do in their early 20’s when they move away from home for the first time. Although my relationship with Pete was now mainly that of supplier to his customer, it was more than that, and as it was with Neptune’s relationship with AKA (and several other shops) generally. As I’ve said elsewhere, those days in Glasgow were a Golden Age, especially as AKA was such a creative hub, and of course, I should mention Pete’s cameo in the pages of the splendid Bogie Man #1.

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When the whole mess regarding Forbidden Planet opening happened, it hurt Pete, but I’ve documented the situation before, but it was sad to go home to see Pete angry and hurt over what happened, though he did eventually open up his back issue shop in FP Glasgow after AKA finally closed.

During the 90’s I went home less often. I’d return to do the odd mart or convention with the lads I’d gotten to know in Bristol. We’d still do business and I’d love it as I caught the odd beer and a chat with Pete before having to dash back down south to whatever I was doing at that time.

In 2002 I went home with my then girlfriend, Nat, for Hogmanay. This was the last time I saw Pete. I think the last thing I said was something about Morton and that I’d get in touch about getting him some comics up from Bristol, or that maybe I’d do a mart/con in Glasgow in 2003 but that never happened as 2003 ended up being a simply insane year, and for a while my only contact with Glasgow was with Andy Sweeney, one of the old AKA who occasionally dropped me the odd text or whenever I saw Gary Erskine at a con in London or Bristol. Then there was the time John McShane came to Bristol for a convention  and drank it dry as we talked beautiful bollocks in the heat of a perfect spring night but there’s another story……..

I late 2006 or early 2007, Andy dropped me a text that Pete was ill. Very ill. I started getting back in touch with others from Glasgow who also kept me informed and I always meant to get myself back home to Glasgow for a visit, but my life here in Bristol was busy with work, crumbling relationships and getting that year’s Glastonbury planned out. While I was away at Glastonbury, Pete died. I didn’t make his funeral and I bloody well should have.

His funeral was a busy affair from all the accounts I’ve heard as Pete was a popular man in the city. He left us too early though, but Pete never got the credit outside of Glasgow or Scotland for what he did for comics. He never got the credit for helping kids get into comics, or help creators get off their arses or people like me from moping around and on their feet. Pete was a remarkable individual of the like you rarely get these days in today’s nihilistic & hedonistic times. Pete cared for others, often at the cost to himself. He should be enshrined as a legendary figure in British comics, not that he’d like that of course but I’m going to consider him so anyhow as it’s the least I can do.

Pete Root was an inspiring figure to me, many of my friends and many of the people he encountered in his life. For that we should remember him. Rest in peace Pete.

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….

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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