The first comic I remember reading is Asterix in Switzerland and I was probably three. In fact it’s one of the earliest memories I have and it’s a golden one as I still chuckle at it because it’s such a bloody great piece of comics but at three I just liked Obelix, and didn’t get the puns regarding the English translations of the original French names til much later but I digress..
It was the first thing I remember reading though I know I was reading earlier than that but it was this book that stood out and opened up a world to me so I went from Asterix, to Tintin, to DC (especially The Flash and the JLA) and eventually Marvel Comics through their Marvel UK reprints such as Mighty World of Marvel with that funky Hulk transfer which I nagged to get ironed on a t-shirt so I could be a cool five year old.
It was at this point I started collecting. I’d moved onto the hard stuff as my older brothers were buying American Marvel of DC comics, plus the odd Gold Key or Charlton comic. I started getting into the Hulk thanks to the simply glorious art of Herb Trimpe, the first American superhero artist whose name I remembered because it sounded so weird to a boy living in Glasgow who was five or six. So I tagged along with my brothers as they searched for comics.
This is where I need to make a point to any younger reader here who is wondering what I mean by ‘search’. Surely there were comic shops? Well no,this was the early 70’s in the UK and in Glasgow when distribution of American imported comics were at best patchy, though DC had slightly better distribution than Marvel, it was still a search to get an issue you might have missed and with the first few comic shops in the UK several years away and the first shop in Glasgow years away beyond that (1980 if I remember right) you had to know where to go.
This meant being shown the ancient sources of four-colour fun. So at the time I lived in Possilpark, and in the mid-70’s the family moved to Milton which was a case of moving from the fire into the frying pan but this is a topic for another time, let’s stick to comics and how to get them.
There were shops which sold comics, and McGhee’s, the newsagent near where we lived in Milton was one, as was on in the middle of Possil but the trick was to find where you could get the hard to find stuff. So by eight or nine (75/76) I knew the chemist in Possil who had a load of American comics under the counter in boxes they’d had sitting there for years which even had Warren Comics as well as Marvel and DC; I knew the newsagent on Maryhill Road who had spinners full of comics going back to the late 60’s; I knew the old bookshop by Partick station that was full of strange men in long coats that looked a wee bit crusty and stained but it was here I found my first American comic I bought with my own pennies and it was a Herb Trimpe Hulk!
From here on I expanded my territory. I already knew of the three stalls at the Barras that sold comics, and it was here I picked up JLA #30 for 50p!
I still have that comic. I genuinely love looking at it, and taking it out it’s bag to smell it because the smell of an old comic is like nothing on Earth One or Earth Two.
But back to the trail..
I’d also by 77 or 78, discovered newsagents by Queen Street station and Central Station that sold comics, another few shops/porno bookshops in the West End and pretty much every single place which sold comics over half of Glasgow.
See, part of the problem was that Marvel would distribute some of their American comics via newsagents in the UK as long as they weren’t titles published by Marvel UK, so there was a Spider Man Marvel UK title which meant the American Spidey dropped out of distribution, and so on. Also they were restricted to 12 titles if I remember right, so you were lucky to get anything at all! This is why if you look at some comic dealers boxes at marts or conventions now you’ll see some titles marked ”ND” which stands for ”non distributed’ which means it didn’t get a newsagent distribution in the UK. This was torture for collectors like me. It did help that my oldest brother used to go to Liverpool when they started their comics marts (they still run today) with an empty suitcase and return with a full one.
I also found by accident while having a Subbuteo set bought for me as a birthday treat a toyshop that had boxes, and I mean boxes, of Marvel comics which were slightly water damaged but readable, and more than a few were in mint condition.
At one point I had ten copies of this:
What happened to these is another, more painful story but needless to say if I still had two or three of those today I could happily clear my debts and possibly take a month off work.
There was also a magazine stall by St. Enoch’s Square in Glasgow who sold more ballast comics, as that’s what all these were-ballast copies of comics that were doomed to be dumped somewhere between the ports on the Clyde and the US but some smart people saved them. In fact I know there was a warehouse full of these comics in Glasgow in 1978 because several people filled their boots, including a local collector called Pete Root, but more of Pete another time as he’s an important figure not just in the comics scene in Glasgow but quite a few people’s lives, mine included. Consider this a tease…
Anyhow. The amount of ND Marvel’s were ridiculous. Loved the X Men? Forget about reading from #102-108 because they were ND. Spider Man was out of bound and the Hulk, the comic which dragged me in, was nowhere.
By this point Marvel UK titles were running adverts for UK dealers and the first mail order services from the likes of Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in London and Forever People in Bristol, which ended up being my first contact with Bristol and what would end up becoming a large part to my adult life up to the present day but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
These mail order services were frankly shite. Orders would turn up with titles missing, or comics damaged, or months late. Then one day one of my brothers came home and told me about the fact there was something called ‘The Science Fiction Bookshop’ in that other place, or Edinburgh as it was known to non-Glaswegians. This was around 79 and the SF Bookshop had been open for a good few years but who were we to know that?
My first trip there was sometime in late 1979 and I remember picking up a few issues of the Hulk, and picking this up…
One of those ND issues of the X Men I needed! Little did I know it;d take another ten years to get all of them but it was a start! I knew a shop where I could get comics I couldn’t get in Glasgow, especially as all the sources I mentioned earlier were going or gone.
So when I hear or read about comic fans today moaning because the latest issue of Batman is an hour late, I have to point out how much easier things are for them now thanks to the network of shops that grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s, not to mention Titan Distributors, an associate company of Forbidden Planet who distributed comics to a growing network of shops across the UK. However it’s the comic distribution wars between Titan and Neptune, and in particular the personality war between Mike Lake (the MD of Titan) and Geoff Fry (the MD of Neptune) which got worse thanks to a comment made by myself to Geoff (for those who don’t know, I worked for Neptune) while travelling to London that made the war escalate to ridiculous (I will tell you dear reader of the races round London, the intimidation, the late night train journeys to Glasgow, and all the other battles in this war another time) degrees. All these things helped get where we are today.
By autumn 1980, Glasgow saw it’s first specialist shop, Futureshock, which is amazingly still open. However it was run by Bob Shaw (who has been mentioned before) and Neil Craig. These people were oil and water, but that’s a story for another time…
1981 saw Glasgow’s first comic mart organised by the local comics fangroup and the whole business with comic shops in Glasgow embarked upon a bizarre and messy few years before things settled down and AKA Books and Comics hit it’s Golden Age.
But for the 1970’s comics fan you had to be committed, patient and most of all obsessed to a degree beyond belief.
It’s now 2013. I sold all those ND X Men years ago even though it took me a decade to get them. Fuck.