Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Twenty-Four)

We're talking about Dez and the first San Diego fiasco.

On the Sunday night, a load of us went back to The Hyatt after the convention closed. It was the biggest and most plush hotel in San Diego (in 1994), the professionals from the industry took over the penthouse bar most nights and the drink normally flowed until the early hours, although usually the only people left standing were the Brits, the ex-pats and the journalists (although the US journos were all on soda by that time). Most of the Americans had cried off after a couple of Miller Lites. Most evenings something happened that was the talk of the press the next day. The last night, one of Norwich’s finest exports Steve Thomas (the former editor of a trade paper in the States) and I were sitting on the top floor enjoying a drink with Dez and a couple of Americans including Neil Hansen, a journalist, when Dez turned to me and announced that the tall leggy blond at the bar was looking at him. I looked over and hoped she was looking at Dez because this was a very tall woman in what looked like a genuine king-size, possibly inflatable, fright wig.

Dez, who lacks inhibitions even when he’s sober, sidles over to the woman and within a few minutes the two of them were walking out of the bar, Dez, very surreptitiously giving us the nod – he was in! Steve Thomas looked at me and I think I returned the same expression. “Did that woman look like a man in drag?” he asked and I was inclined to agree. She looked well worn with a hardened skin and was at least 6 feet tall. She was quite striking, but was obviously on the mutton side of lamb. We sat there in awe and disbelief, one of the Dark Horse management, one of the real genuine guys, despite being American, in the business, wandered over – he actually had a quite striking resemblance to the woman Dez had just walked out with, except his nose was a bit smaller. He had a beaming smile on his face and called me to one side. “The person Dez just walked out with tried it on Walter last night. [Walter = Walter Koenig, the actor who famously played Chekov in the original Star Trek TV series and was in San Diego promoting his new comics series] She’s a guy! We don’t know if he’s a transsexual or a transvestite but your boss has just walked out of here with a man on his arm!” This particular Dark Horse employee had known both of us for 5 years and he had a particularly set opinion of Dez. At best it was called toleration, but once at Bristol, a few years later, he just told me he thought my boss was ‘an arrogant drunken asshole’. Oddly enough, I’m still friends with this guy, but we mainly talk about dogs and my lack of understanding of American football rather than comics.

We didn’t see Dez again that evening and the following day he was cracking jokes about smoking California joints in the girl’s convertible, but when I pushed the subject to whether or not ‘she’ had stayed the night, he said that she had gone home shortly after they left the Hyatt. So why hadn’t he come back for more of a session? He was tired; he thought that perhaps the travelling had finally caught up with him. That was the brightest he was all day. His mood grew increasingly darker as the day wore on, but that might have had a lot to do with some of the looks he was getting from other hotel guests who were leaving as we were.

Whatever had happened the night before with the lady-man, who looked like a reject from Def Leppard, it obviously had been something of a pain in the arse for Dez. He proceeded to be a prick for the rest of our stay there.

Now for a light-hearted aside: One of the highlights of the week in California was meeting and becoming friends with Billy Tucci, a great guy who I count him as one of my best friends in comics, even though we’ve barely spoken for the last 10 years. Billy Tucci makes George W. Bush seem like a really reasonable almost pacifistic guy. Billy is a redneck New Yorker who believes that we all have a right to carry a weapon and we should all fight for our countries. Billy’s ambition was that he’d wanted to join the Marines, mainly so that he could kill someone in armed combat protecting his country or the free world – I’m not sure whether it was just the act of killing someone or he wanted to do it with an excuse, but it was quite frightening all the same, that a rational, free-thinking East Coast man should have such wish. A former fashion designer turned comics artist, Billy was/is one of the most genuine people in comics and I remember giving him some advice at dinner once that he said changed his life.

We were talking about fans – the slimy, greasy, overweight, under-nourished geeks and the ones who follow creators round like sheep at conventions, asking the most banal of questions and generally conveying a feeling of unpleasantness. Billy hated them. They were an anathema to someone with his background. Then in the middle of it all he stopped and looked at me, “But I gets this letter from a kid a couple of weeks ago and he’s like, this is so cool, you’ve made me interested in the Martial Arts, you’ve inspired me to do this, that and the other. And I’m looking at this letter and I don’t really know what to do or say.”

I said, “Pin it to your drawing board. Every so often, when you’re feeling low or down, look at it and remind yourself that this is the reason you’re doing it. If it matters to someone then you’ve made a difference to that person’s life in whatever small way. That kid pays your wages, you should remember him and all of his friends, and the ones we’ve all been taking the piss out of. Without them, none of us would be eating this food in this good restaurant at your expense!”

Four years later at a big signing in Birmingham, Billy had the longest queue of autograph and sketch hunters. Everyone else was doing what they were there for and getting on to the next person. Billy was talking, laughing and joking with his fans, as he always does, and refused to stop at the end because not all of them had been seen. He doesn’t do many comics any more, I believe - the industry’s loss, I’m afraid. The highlight for me was when he saw me. He excused himself from his drawing duties, jumped over the table, shouted out, “Oy, you old wanker!” at the top of his voice, to which I replied by calling him a Yankee tosser (I’d taught him how to swear in English) and we gave each other a massive hug. We’re still friends.


The rest of the San Diego trip involved a few hours at a beach in Malibu that confirmed my fears that the Pacific ocean is as cold as the Atlantic and a day in LA, which involved losing my sunglasses, going to a party and having an unwelcome encounter with the motel and residents from hell.

Jumping ahead of chronology; at a later San Diego, Dez’s evil attentions were turned to Mike Conroy, a one-time colleague of mine at CI. He found out in 1998, when Dez took him on the same journey. Apparently Dez’s rant at him was so bad Mike almost had a breakdown when he returned. But like me, Mike viewed going to San Diego as something of a Mecca and the opportunity to actually get there was greater than all the acceptable risks. Dez tried his bully tactics on Mike when the entire CI trip looked destined to become as newsworthy as the entire convention weekend. Dez had taken the entire team minus one – me – to San Diego. He was using the last of the build up of cash from the boom years, but by then he also had to use a number of credit cards to ensure they could ‘afford’ the trip.

This was the year of the big meltdown. I’d already been the victim of Dez’s increasing megalomania, the rest of the team were about to see it for what it really was...

Comics Lesson 14:

Comics Conventions are the Mecca for the true fan. For Americans it was either the long-standing San Diego or the newer, jazzier, Chicago Wizard World Con. In the UK we had this quaint thing called The UK Comics Festival that resembled a car boot sale in a 3-star hotel and had all the ambience of a tragic funeral. France has Angouleme a massive event over a week with 250,000+ people attending. Germany has Frankfurt, Poland has Lodz, and Brazil has Rio De Janeiro – the UK now has a number of events masquerading as something important.

The point is they take place, big or small, wherever comics are read by a good number of people. Most conventions have to boast a list of comics personalities to guarantee attendance. People like Jim Lee, Brian Bendis, Mark Millar and whoever else is the current artist du jour are the stars who are revered in the same ways people will fawn over the Brad Pitts and Tom Cruises of the film world! Arguably it is one of the pinnacles of a creator’s working life if he is one of the major invited guests at a convention; it’s sort of like official recognition or an unofficial award for services given. But conventions are also the places where most professionals get together, talk work – casually make deals, and let their hair down and enjoy themselves. In the UK it is similar except more time is spent - and more work done - in the bars. Conventions also have the biggest concentration of people working in comics or related to the comics industry, so these are the places that fans like to go for maximum autograph book attention and the wannabes use as their way to impress the people that need to be impressed.

Conventions also offer (supposedly) the largest selection of comicbooks on sale anywhere at that specific time (not true, ever) and a third of the auditoriums they are held at are normally covered with people having paid enormous amounts of money for a table or a booth, hoping to be able to make anywhere near the same amount of profit they would make from standard comics marts or markets.

Conventions are real geekfests as well, which of course doesn’t help matters when a film crew is there trying to make a film about how comics aren’t just for kids and geeks.

Next time: Being in charge of the magazine while civil war raged in San Diego.

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  1. Who would have thought it? Dez Skinn is a complete cunt and no one realised it. He always struck me as a buy-me-a-drink-and-I'll-be-your-friend kind of guy who had this clever way of turning every conversation with him into a celebration of how good he is. There's this widely held myth that Skinn is the British Stan Lee, but his record isn't actually that inspiring if you put it under the microscope. he lasted two years at Marvel UK and for all of Paul Neary's valiant efforts to repair the wrongs, Skinn had already allowed a cancer to spread there. There are countless reports about him shafting Warrior contributors, which one has to say are far too numerous to be dismissed as sour grapes and from the sound of things he ran Comics International on cash flow rather than investing in the people who worked there or the business.
    Congratulations for standing up for yourself and writing this; there are many of us who have stories about him, but I think none of us are as brave as you!

  2. I do hope you talk about the John Junner episode; this perfectly illustrates what a psycho and nasty person Dez Skinn can be!

  3. Heh...

    John Junner? Yeah, that was a weird one and it happened, I think, after I completed the original draft of this book. In fact, there are a few stories from my wilderness years that don't make the final draft, even in the round up at the end of the things I missed.
    If memory serves me correctly, it happened on a Miracleman yahoogroup and involved some guy threatening Dez about his rightful ownership of Marvelman. It all got petty, acrimonious and nasty in the space of a couple of days; then, straight from left field Dez appeared and claimed that John Junner was actually me and I was just trying to stir up shit for him. I was completely ignorant of the events going on until a couple of friends pointed me in the right direction. Within a couple of days, this Junner guy, who had by this time changed his name to something else, offered me a financial incentive if I spilled the beans on Dez - told him all the shit I had on the man; but something stunk to high heaven about the entire thing. My good, dear friend Craig Johnson tracked Junner's IP address to an address in East Sussex and exposed this; the fact that Dez and his then cohort, a guy called Gary both lived in Sussex suggested some kind of bizarre attempt to besmirch my name, yet again. Dez hurriedly set up a new Miracleman group because of the continuing flame war and part of me suspects that was his plan all along - to rest control of a yahoogroup featuring something he views as his 'property'.
    What was worse about that event was the fact that he accused me of doing something so blatantly when it took Craig minutes to find out the origins of the fake poster; it was just another futile attempt at trying to make me look like the c*nt. Fortunately common sense won out.

  4. What I can't understand is why you stayed so long? If it was that bad why continue working for him? Surely at some point during the 1990s you could have gone to a comics company? You seemed to be well known enough in the community.

  5. I explain why I stayed later on in this chapter, so I'll not repeat myself. as for your last point; I think the following story ended up on the cutting room floor because I felt I didn't want to share it, at the time. But in the late 1990s, I was tentatively approached by a (reasonably large) comics company in the USA and asked if I'd be interested in becoming something like a UK editor for the company; handling the Brit creators, acting as a liaison between them and the company. The idea had been discussed and several of the team on the publishing staff had mentioned my name.
    I did a really stupid thing. because Dez had been, by this time, pressurising us to find 'other' work, I told him about this approach, thinking he would be pleased for me and see the benefits of having me working with a major company and how it would put the magazine in a better place.
    After I had left the convention where this 'tentative offer' had been made, Dez proceeded to search out the publisher himself and put across the argument that Kerry Hurley was a far better placed person to do this job; that the publisher could use all of CI's resources and that ultimately I wasn't the best choice for this.
    Several days after the event, I received a phone call from one of the top guys at this company; he was apologising profusely. The CEO had pulled the idea of having a UK editor; he was so appalled by Dez's blatant slagging off of me and pushing for his own choice in the job that the publisher decided he didn't want anything to do with CI or the people who worked there.
    When I challenged Dez on this, he tried to justify it by telling me that I just wasn't good enough to handle a job like that, but I'd reap the benefits when Kerry got the job. After the publisher pulled out, he never mentioned it again.
    Sometimes, there's the possibility of over gilding the lily and the section on my time at CI could have been 100 pages longer; but a lot of it is just repetition - the same cause and effect but with a different subject matter.
    The upshot is, living in Northamptonshire hasn't done Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, Simon Coleby, John Smith and countless others any harm, but for me it was just a little far away!

  6. "good, dear friend"...oh Phill, you have a way with words my dear chap.

    Good, accurate summary of the JJ stuff (I can't believe you resisted mentioning the clown bit though) but what we really want to know is whether you'll be discussing the stuff at Silver Bullets (possibly not of interest to anyone other than myself though, so probably not!).

  7. I remember you saying in one of your columns at the comics village that if you'd had the chance of editing comics international when Skinn sold it you would have made a success of it; do you think there's a market for a new print magazine about comics any more?

  8. Craig, are you aware who was 'famous' for saying, "my good, dear friend..."?
    The clown bit? Jesus, I can't remember most of that stuff; I think a lot of that happened while I was having my bad time - which is talked about later. refresh my memory and I'll spout!
    The Silver Bullets thing... well, yes, they crop up a couple of times in the Borderline section as does Jason...

    Barry: No. But if they're thinking of it they should talk to me :)

  9. Now I'm worried, because you called me a "good, dear friend" a few posts back.

  10. Hang on, are we talking about 'the clown' thing? As in the kid's entertainer? If so, I think I decided that just briefly mentioning his first name was about all the recognition he deserves.
    I was going to tell you that someone from many of our pasts got in touch recently to protest about possibly being in the book. I suggested the person was flattering themselves to even think I'd deem them worthy of a mention in anything.

  11. Probably the bloke from Babylon 5 when he meant to say 'that cunt', more what you meant old chap...