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.

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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 Eisnercon-Glasgow’s First Comic Convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moving on…

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

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

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

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