Go read my UKCAC piece in Fanscene #2

I’ve written a number of UKCAC pieces on my blog here. One of them has been slightly adapted for the second issue of the splendid fanzine, Fanscene.

The 50th anniversary mentioned is of the first British comic convention in Birmingham in 1968 which essentially spawned not just the British fan scene, but also the British comics industry. Every year since 1968 there’s been at least one large convention held in the UK,  sometimes these events were thrown together in the last minute, or in the case of today there’s at least a dozen or so large conventions with hundreds of smaller cons of varying quality filling up a busy calender but there’s no way this would exist were it not for the work done in the 50 years since that first con.

So, download the magazine here and enjoy what is a smashing good read.

The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part three: Public Image Ltd

A small group of people are sitting in a bar in a hotel in Manchester during the last UKCAC in 1998.For 30 years in the UK there’s been at least one annual large comic convention somewhere in the country, but at this movement there’s nothing planned for 1999 and the only people who seem to care are the half dozen or so people sitting nursing their drinks on a Sunday afternoon. A comment splits the onrushing gloom…

”How about we tag onto a Babylon 5 convention?”

It is at this point the British comic convention hits its lowest point. But lets go back to part two and the end of the 1980’s. Comics are everywhere. Alan Moore and Robert Crumb get name-checked on pop songs. Channel 4, BBC Two and the broadsheet papers start taking an interest in the growing and developing medium. Books like Watchmen and Maus are compared with the best of modern traditional literature. Conventions and marts are bursting with attendees. Shops are opening up at a dramatic rate as the direct market grows to accommodate this new, excitingly engaged audience who have a thirst for every genre from superheroes to SF, to horror, indeed, anything seems the limit as 1990 comes.

The British comic convention grows too. There’s now a Glasgow Comic Art Convention to complement the London based one, and smaller conventions and marts are all over the UK.

Comic publishers start springing up with the most successful being Image Comics who arrive on the scene in 1992 publishing a dynamic, if somewhat intellectually thin, set of superhero/adventure comics that cater to the growing speculator market.

Image were a speculators wet dream.Comics that came out one week would increase in value the week later by nonsensical amounts, so potentially you could make 1000% more than you paid for a comic. So companies started making comics ‘more collectable’ with special and variant covers at the expense of any sort of quality. The ‘Imagefication’ of mainstream comics brought the speculator into comics in droves and as more and more product was pumped out to be valued instantly higher than it should be. A bubble was forming that couldn’t last.

In the meantime the British comics convention was at its peak. More and more one day events were springing up from Gloucester to Cardiff to Newcastle to Belfast and of course, UKCAC and GLASCAC were running along nicely.

Then the bubble burst.

The industry couldn’t cope with the amount of product being pumped out and in fact, the industry was in a slow decline from around 93, but by 1996 the comics industry was in an awful place. Companies were going out of business, and Marvel (who were pushing out million selling comics at the start of the decade) hit a hard decline that saw them nearly going out of existence. Comic conventions and marts also suffered as the speculators moved onto whatever else they did which meant retailers had boxes of unsold copies of comics with special/variant covers and nobody to buy them.

In 1998, UKCAC moved from London to Manchester, while the Glasgow conventions were now long gone. For those of us who were there it was a fun event, but the feeling it was a wake hung around which leads us back to a bunch of us sitting in the bar contemplating latching onto a Babylon 5 convention in order to keep the idea of a large British comic convention alive.

Other ideas did come to the fore, including one which involved organising a show in Nottingham as London was too prohibitive in terms of cost. Things looked bleak as shops closed weekly while the marts in London and elsewhere were a struggle to turn a profit if you were a retailer but some light was at the end of the tunnel for the British comic convention.

1999 wasn’t just the last year of the old millennium, it was also in many ways the beginning of where we are today with the modern comic convention and it all started in Bristol.

The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part two: London Calling

In the first part I briefly covered the birth of the British comic convention in 1968 in sunny Birmingham and the development of the British comics scene during the 1970’s. By the 1980’s the comic convention had settled into a pattern which would look somewhat more familiar to a post-cosplay era attendee than they may think with the panels, and of course dealers room, supplemented by the fancy dress parade

The 80’s opened with a variety of conventions and marts, including the Westminster marts in London which were a hub for fans and professionals to meet, with often fans crossing the line to become professionals themselves thanks to meeting the right people. These marts were also a hunting ground for organisers of the Glasgow comic marts in the 80’s who would lure the likes of Alan Moore or Steve Dillon north of the border with the promise of curry and beer.

By the mid-80’s it was clear a massive wave of talent was forming in the UK, and for conventions boom times were approaching. In 1986 the Birmingham Comic Art Show appeared which I’ve written about before.

Meanwhile in London, the UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) was also coming into its stride having a few years to find its feet, and audience. It quickly became the leading, and indeed, only large comics convention to be held regularly for the rest of the decade.

UKCAC’s influence is felt today by countless numbers of people probably unaware of it ever existing. If people hadn’t went to these conventions then they’d never have worked in the industry, or at least, found it hard to break into the industry. It was a crucible for future generations, plus they were enormous fun for pro, fan, retailer, or anyone casually attending in what was a boomtime for comics as a medium.

By the end of the 80’s everything looked peachy. Comics were getting the respect they deserved and the British industry ruled the world. The last decade of the millennium looked bright for the comic convention which had grown out of humble roots to something that promised bigger things as comics became more mainstream, and hey, the direct market was growing and that could only mean more sunshine ahead.

Next up, the 1990’s and it all goes tits up.

The Problem With Fake Geek Girls

There’s been a lot of chat over the last few years over the problems with fake Geek Girls and how they’re a blight upon comics fandom, and the whole ”Geek” scene. For example the artist Tony Harris made a well thought out and deeply meaningful post on his Facebook last year, and any forum online is full of considered, thoughtful posts on the subject because ultimately girls just don’t get it, and they just aren’t geeky enough are they?

After all, no male fan has ever not known the history of the comics medium. Never. That’s never happened No male fan has ever look vaguely ridiculous while dressing up as a character from a comic, film or telly series. That’s never happened. Ever.No male fan have ever jumped on a bandwagon of something popular. That’s never happened. Ever. No male fan has just blindly followed something because it’s trendy. That’s never happened. It’s only girls who do these things, really, honest,  and that’s why they’re fake!!!

Meanwhile back in the real world…..

The whole ‘Geek Girl’ thing is a simple case of just the sort of old fashioned misogyny that sadly has been in comics since, oooo, I was even born but updated for the 21st century with extra added ignorance and stupidity because even though the internet is the greatest educational resource humanity has ever invented, people are basically fucking idiots.

As said, this has always been something bubbling under the surface in comics in the US at least, while in the UK things were different  in the sense that although we had weekly girls comics, there was a less vicious form of discrimination among readers but the industry itself was hardly free and open but the UK has a long history since 2000AD especially of strong female characters (Judge Anderson, Halo Jones, Purity Brown from Nemesis, numerous strips in the likes of Crisis, Toxic!, etc)  written by the likes of Alan Moore, Pat Mills and John Wagner who were brought up with the sort of egalitarian socialism of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s which is exactly the sort of background most American writers, and indeed, fans didn’t have a background in. So women in American comics were generally there to make up the numbers, and so that sort of treatment of women spilled over into how fans though about women before the ‘eww, girls have cooties’ phase that most boys go though at some point in their early years, but most of us grow out of it.

This is something I’ve touched on before, but in this case let’s focus on the expression ‘Fake Geek Girl’ for what it is. It’s become a meme where you can stumble across people calling it out, or defending it, or apathetically saying nothing about it. It is designed purely to offend women.

Before we go on, let me explain about the distant past called the 1980’s when the idea of half naked women dressed as Black Canary wandering around a convention was, frankly, laughable.

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I’ve covered my history of British conventions in the past, but the one thing I didn’t mention in detail was the lack of women and girls. I remember sitting around hotel bars at various UKCAC’s in the 80’s and 90’s bemoaning the lack of women, if only to thin out the smell of sweaty fanboys in Batman shirts that haven’t washed in days. Frankly in the old days, women were restricted to being the mothers of kids they brought, the odd girlfriend who dared to come along (and I can tell you having taken girlfriends to cons in the past this can be a weird experience) and very rarely, the odd female fan who loved comics. This number grew during the 90’s but they were coming into comics through comic version of the Anne Rice books, or Sandman,  or Love & Rockets, or indeed, any of the more inclusive comics that started coming from the US during the late 80’s and 90’s. You also had the rise of Cosplay as more people immersed themselves into the Manga culture it spawned from, plus programmes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, increased a female audience for material which til then had been almost exclusively the preserve of males. This pissed people off because how dare these women get involved with things they like, and as this new popularity with genre fiction in comics, TV, etc came across the Atlantic we saw a move from the egalitarian socialism which was the norm in British comics culture to a more Americanised version where people now defend the recent nude Halo Jones fiasco, or indeed, join in the nonsense that is the ‘fake Geek Girl’ meme.

This isn’t to say that there’s not people out there jumping on a bandwagon, or indeed the whole ‘geek’ thing has become a cultural trend and this is a point made by others, but the reality is the term is used to abuse and intimidate women so it’s been made a pejorative word by male fans who frankly, just hate women taking an active role in something they think is there’s and that’s just sad and wanky.

The American comics industry is frankly full of exploitation, and at this point I’d heartily recommend the excellent Pussey by Dan Clowes.

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It’s an amazingly funny, not to mention vicious dissection of the American comics industry, but it gives a lot of context to where American comics, not to mention the ‘geek culture’ went during the 90’s.

The point of all this is that some fans are wankers. Some are glory hunters. Some are just jumping on a trend and will jump off again in a few years. Some don’t know anything about comics history. Some only want to cheer ‘their’ side on and to hell with creators, other fans and anything as long as they get their fix. Some want to degrade women. Which brings me round to the way things were in the 80’s and early 90’s where fans and creators fought to get more women into comics. They fought to make things better, but are now seeing a vicious reprisal to this from people who have found an internet connection and want to spout their hatred because that’s what they’ve decided to do with their lives. This doesn’t mean people should sit back, but it just means we’ve got to have a go back and make things fun for everyone. Don’t put up with people’s sense of entitlement or their stupidity.

That would be the decent and human thing to do.

Misogyny and Male Privilege in Mainstream Comics

There’s a lot of chatter at the moment in regards to the various issues with misogyny in mainstream comics, and in particular comics fandom as if this is somehow a new thing. It isn’t, but what is new is the venom, not to mention the sheer closed minded ignorance shown by fans and within the industry.

As people who have read my rambling blogs will know, I’ve been reading comics most of my life, and have spent around half my working life working in the industry in retail, publishing and distribution so this is me laying out a few credentials here before any passer-by chips in with a ‘well, what do you know’ load of bollocks. I’ve discussed comics as a medium with the likes of Will Eisner, Alan Moore, John Wagner and a load of other creators over the years. Basically I’m coming at this with just a wee bit of pedigree just in case anyone tries to rubbish my opinions based on what I know so now that’s out the way let’s move on.

Firstly, I’ve no problem with cheesecake. I love artists like Dave Stevens, Steranko, or the great damaged genius that was Wally Wood. Wood especially is someone who is as far as I’m concerned one of the best comic book artists America has ever produced but he could knock out either something so sublime and subtle..

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Or exactly the opposite..

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This isn’t about censorship but it’s about quality, and to make the point clear, there’s nothing wrong with what used to be called ‘Good Girl Art‘ as there’s a naive innocence in much of it even though it’s objectified images of women, it’s playful fun though as pointed out, it did just sometimes cross into soft porn it was mainly relatively harmless, if often crass.

The fact is that mainstream comics in the US are essentially power fantasies, so the male characters are strong defenders of the truth who look like wrestlers, while the women were sexy, but relatively chaste women who were initially window dressing in post Comics Code comics which was the status quo for women in comics up til the 70’s when women started to develop into nearly two dimensional characters (male characters like Spider Man had got acne giving them that much needed realism superheroes needed back in the early 60’s) and being treated nearly like people. Yes, they did dress like Disco Strippers, but Luke Cage also used to wear a tiara and if they can make him look sensible, then they can do that with female characters.

Sweet Christmas!

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The point of this meandering is to basically say that there was sexism and misogyny, that it was plain to be seen, but there was an innocence as things (Red Sonja’s metal bikini for example)  may have been ridiculous, but there were attempts to make things better for women on the page. There wasn’t the pornofication of women characters, though that was happening in Underground Comics but that’s a blog all by itself.

It should be pointed out that the majority of people working then and now in mainstream comics are white blokes with the odd exception like the great Marie Severin or Ramona Fradon it was mainly men so you can see how things developed which isn’t to say that someone like Chris Claremont (Claremont is now marginalised by many modern fans but without him Joss Whedon has no ideas) didn’t try as can been seen over the horrible tale of Ms Marvel’s rape in an issue of The Avengers but the problem was and indeed, still is, a lack of women working in mainstream American comics. This means we get a very male, often very middle class, very white and obviously very American view of reality which sometimes threw up drivel like Ms Marvel’s rape, or the downright mess that the character Power Girl became over the years.

It really wasn’t til the late 80’s that the real pornofication of mainstream comics kicked in, with artists like Rob Liefeld drawing people very badly but to staggering amounts of popularity. It’d be wrong for me not to post this image of Captain America as it’s so bad it never fails to make me laugh….

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But it was Liefeld’s women who were from another world.

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Women no longer started to look real, and the concept of Good Girl Art went out the window for this pornofied, utterly objectified version of women which tapped into an older audience as mainstream comics moved slowly away from being aimed at children and now at teenagers and older. I don’t blame Liefeld all by himself for this as that would do even a hack like him an injustice, but he’s by far the best example of this. There’s dozens more just as bad, if not worse but the Bad Girl Art style was created and as comics were driven away from newsagents and newstands thanks to the growth of the direct market, publishers went for more ”adult” material which in fact meant, tits,& arse with lashings of violence, which by the 90’s was joined by rape, gore, more extreme violence and women’s roles being defined in most titles as the ‘warrior maid/kick ass babe’ type, the ‘whore with a heart’, or the love interest waiting to be killed to give the male hero justification, or  Women in Refrigerators (WiR) as Gail Simone coined it.

Then there’s the subject of rape in mainstream comics, which isn’t to say it’s a topic not to be covered. It should be as Moore and Gibbons did in Watchmen, or Peter David did (within the limits of the Comics Code) in his excellent Hulk run but these writers didn’t use it to shock for shocks sake though when Moore used it in Miracleman #14 it was meant to be shocking and horrifying as it’s a key moment in the story, not to mention a warning for the horrors which follow.

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The problem is that writers with vastly less talent than Moore, David or Simone saw rape as an easy shock tactic which resulted in the obscenity which was Identity Crisis and the rape of Sue Dibney.

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After this the floodgates opened and what were fun children;s characters all ages could enjoy were turned into violent nutters, whores, or victims. The justification often given is that we live in a post-911 world and mainstream comics should represent that, which is true but this does not represent the world rather than a version of the world through male eyes and in particular, male eyes who’ve grown up seeing women as purely objects or plot devices in comics, so you get this grim world where writers throw around rape casually, or women are killed or maimed to make a point (yes, I’m aware of the Killing Joke before anyone asks) and we end up in a point where we have stuff like this from the fucking awful Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.

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Which is laughably defended by some as empowering for women because a section of male fans think what is empowering to women is fucking everyone around them, which brings us screaming out of providing a bit of backstory to the whole thing about male privilege.

There was always the attitude that girls were breaking into a boys world with comics in the US (unlike the UK where girls comics were huge business from the 50’s to 80’s when the weekly market collapsed) in the 60’s onwards but it moved from the ‘eww, girls have cooties‘ phase to something nastier as it is today where it’s genuinely unpleasant to read forums or the reports of women essentially being assaulted at conventions because they dress up as their favourite characters which seems to be free range for some blokes to grope, feel and molest their way round conventions.

I admit to still being puzzled by the whole cosplay thing, even back in the day when cosplay was called fancy dress and you used to have people pretending to be Mr. Fantastic by taping together a load of cardboard tubes, painting them blue and sticking them on their arms. It’s all harmless fun and should be treated as such though, as opposed to trying to cop a feel because it’s probably the only time you’ll get near a woman.

It’s also worth pointing out that mainstream comics do try now and then to give realistic versions of women and one such example was the splendid Alias written by Brian Bendis around a decade or so ago. It didn’t last and when the main character joined the mainstream Marvel Universe she moves from this real woman to one we see in superhero comics all the time with her tits and arse in such impossible poses that you wonder when her body will break.

There’s a very good article here by Kelly Thompson which details a lot of the debate, including examples of the infamous brokeback pose such as this.

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There’s always been sexy females in mainstream comics, but there was a vague attempt (within the context of the superhero universe) at realism in all but the very worst examples. Now this ridiculous idea that all women leap around fighting like Porno Jugglers with their underwear up their arse. It doesn’t serve the story, nor the context of the characters but it does serve the audience, or at least, a part of the audience. And again, I’m against censorship, and some porn is fine but there’s a context and a time and a place and it isn’t using children’s characters marketed at kids, or pandering to a core misogynistic and vocal group of fans who tend to dominate online debate.

Thankfully things seem to be changing slowly even though the debate over ‘fake Geek Girls’ continues, and people point out the inane insanity of the poses women are put through but it’s going to take a load of work to make things right and that’s going to start with Marvel and DC pulling their heads out their arses to appeal to more than 20-40 something males. Make superhero comics fun, enjoyable and most of all accessible without making them childish or excluding your next two generations of readers only know your characters through cartoons, or games, or toys rather than the source medium. Fans should pull up other fans groping women at conventions or shaming them, or calling them whores.

Before anyone says ‘but, but it’s an AMERICAN problem!‘ let’s not be so bloody stupid. I’ve seen the few women who used to go to cons here be ogled and groped, including one girlfriend of mine at a Bristol Expo around a decade ago. We’re not even talking drunken stupidity (of which I’ve done my fair share) but opportunism to feel some female flesh because you don’t know if you’ll ever get another chance in life to do so. There’s also been incidents going back to the UKCAC days which I’m not going to go into detail about as they were dealt with at the time & they tended not to happen again, but you get the point that if you sit back watching these things happen & don’t try to make it better then you’re making things worse.

There are a number of things horribly wrong with ”Geek Culture” and the modern mainstream comics fan ranging from an ignorance of the comics medium, to a concentration on things being AWESOME at the expense of anything else, and ooo, lots more I might write about another day but at the same time, for most people it’s about finding something fun and enjoyable so nothing spoils that more than being told you’re a slag because you’re wearing a short dress or you see the wandering hands some fans have.

It feels as if things aren’t going to change unless something very, very horrible happens to a woman at a convention, and even then they’ll be blokes blaming her. I hope it doesn’t and I hope the various campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic educate or shame enough blokes to stop what they’re doing and grow up. It really isn’t that hard just to keep your hands to yourselves and act like decent human beings is it?  Comics as a medium is just fine, but mainstream superhero comics are taking a kicking, much of it rightly so, which is why expanding the audience and thinking long term for the future is better than just running Marvel and DC for a core, mainly male fanbase while the parent companies run off and make summer blockbusters from these characters because Marvel & DC are now basically intellectual property farms for film & the associated merchandising spawned from these characters. This is why women are coming in. They like these characters but the core fan doesn’t want their boys club broken into. Tough. If you love the medium and the characters then celebrate the fact it’s not just a relatively small number of people who enjoy them now.

Sadly I don’t think things will ever be perfect, or indeed, get anywhere near it but if anything we should be standing up against the sense of entitlement from some fans, and also, praising those who do turn and want to change things.

And with that, I’m off to read some old EC Comics so I can look at some Wally Wood art….

Pale Blue Horizons- The San Diego Comic Con

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It’s the San Diego Comic Con this week, which if you’re a comic person like myself is the Glastonbury Festival of comics as long as you ignore Angoulême of course.It’s the nirvana for comics fans and over the last 15 years or so has moved from being mainly comics focused to ‘popular arts’, which essentially seems to mean they’ve dumped comics out the back in favour of films, telly, games, and any old tat.

Sadly this is the nature of such things as I was predicting that at the last UKCAC in 1998 that the only way for comic conventions to expand was to look into other related genres, or even open the field of comics up in a way that’s certainly not been done in this country, but that’s aside the point & a blog for the very near future.

I’ve never been to Comic Con, and at this rate I probably won’t in the foreseeable future. Til I somehow do, I live vicariously through the Twitter feed of friends there, or though films such as the one I’ve posted the trailer of above, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which was released the other year. It’s a film worth watching as it captures some of the stress & fun of being a retailer, not to mention other aspects including being a budding artist. Now back in the late 80’s I used to see people’s portfolios at conventions due to me working for Trident Comics and on the whole, 95% of them were utter rubbish. It was that 5% we’d constantly look for, but it was letting people down in such a way that they’d not kill themselves as people were like the Skip chap in the film and they really did think they were the Next Big Thing. It was hard, but I’ve seen editors from DC or 2000AD be completely brutal, and I think that’s the best way to do it but in a constructive way.

It’s a film worth watching because the tone is overwhelmingly positive, which does means there’s not too much in the way of discussion of the negatives, but that’s not the point as it’s supposed to be a celebration. The one thing that comes out of it is how different British and American cons are, or at least, were as our cons are moving more towards the American model with is a plus and minus all at the same time as our cons have always had this wonderfully anarchic feel about them, and that isn’t referring to the organisation of them but the feel and ethics of them. Anyhow, I wish everyone well & hope they have fun because that’s what these things should be: fun!

I’ll be following this year’s Con online and wishing I was there. I probably won’t be there next year but never say never……

 

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….