I spent many years doing what some comics fans could only dream of - I made a living from my hobby. I also, despite what the text you have been reading might suggest, had some good times or times when I met important people or celebrities. I could name drop with the best of them during the 1990s!
Some people I met lived up to my expectations, while others surprised me in many different ways.
In 1999, I finally met Alan Davis, despite knowing where he lived (he lived next door to my mate's brother). Having been a fan of his since coming back to comics, plus working with people who knew him, he'd been pointed out to me on a number of occasions. Davis is one of the superstar artists in the comics world with an almost universally liked style and I finally met him at the Royal & National hotel near Euston Station. He's a bit curmudgeonly to be honest; I'd heard this about him and it just didn't seem to sit with the image I had of this knight in Shining Steel Armour.
Davis worked for Corus or British Steel and I tell this story in far more detail in a later instalment, but he did a very altruistic thing when he broke into comics, he asked British Steel to give his job to one of his redundant colleagues. His managers warned him that there was probably no future in comics illustrating, but Davis felt guilty that he had two incomes when his friends and neighbours had none. I've heard this story from several people, so I've no reason to doubt its validity, but when you meet the man he's not an Affable Al.
Someone else who surprised me was current hot British actor Simon Pegg, who Dez Skinn had roped into presenting the Eagle Awards, the year they came back. Pegg, famous for films and series like Big Train and Spaced, was a huge comics fan and jumped at the chance and apparently was got on the cheap, saving more pennies for Dez's coffers.
I got the job of chaperoning Pegg around the comics convention site in Bristol; making sure he had what he wanted, buying him drinks and we got on reasonably well; the problem was he was far more of a nerd than I. I found I spent a long time during the afternoon just standing around while Simon and various fans talked 2000AD and Judge Dredd. About an hour before the awards dinner, I needed a spliff and figuring Pegg had just come from the stoner comedy Spaced, he'd probably be up for a toke or three. Not on your life; the man was as straight as a die. He admitted that there was never pot on the set; no one, well all apart from one of them, didn't smoke it and he'd tried it when he was at college but it didn't agree with him. I left Simon with someone I could trust - a guy called David Wohl, who works for Top Cow (part of Image) and went and had a spliff away from the masses.
Later, at the awards, my friends Jay and Selina were sitting just behind me and Simon. I knew that Jay was a big Spaced fan and was also hugely into 2000AD. I also knew that Jay could be a real nerd if he wanted to, so I introduced them. Bugger me if Pegg didn't get the most animated he'd been all day! The two of them hit it off like cottagers in Windsor Great Park toilets.
Pegg's final little contribution to the awards was to present them and I'd been roped in to hand over one of the awards for the best comic - single issue. Simon was standing on the stage and he looked at me and grinned. I smiled back, but there was something in his eyes that worried me. It got to the prize I was giving and Simon goes to the mike. "Now is the award for Best Comic - Single Issue and to read the nominations and tell us a bit more about this award here's Phill Hall from Comics International. I was stoned. I had also been told all I had to do was stand there, read the list of nominees, announce the winner and leave the rest to Simon. I gawped at him as he moved to one side of the microphone with a big smile on his face. Then he burst out laughing and I felt a little better. I spluttered through the obligatory list, announced the winner and got off the stage, with Pegg's guffawing echoing in my ears.
In all the years I've been lucky enough to meet famous people, or celebrities as we call them now, the one I was the most nervous about was Stan Lee. He was at one of the last London conventions of the 1990s and I was standing around having a beer with the wife, who had been at museums all day, and a few artist friends. I saw Lee walk into the bar and decided that I was going to shake his hand. So that's what I did. I was as nervous as fuck; but I was going to say hello. "So who are you then fella?" He asked as I was shaking his scrawny hand but very firm handshake. "My name is Phill Hall, I work for your former pro..." I was going to say protege, but he stopped me. "You work for Dez on his magazine; yeah, I've seen your name." Made up? You can bet I was. We talked for about another five minutes, before I decided not to overstay my welcome and I disappeared back into the throng. My wife looked at me; I had a beaming smile on my face. Yes, Stan Lee has come in for a lot of criticism over the years, mainly for how the artists who worked for him were treated, but he was still a demigod in my eyes.
I met Walter Koenig the same week as I met Jonathan Frakes; but they had no bearing on each other. Koenig had been writing some comics for an obscure company in the 1990s and I was looking for my friend Lou Bank, who by this time had left Marvel and had gone to Dark Horse. Anyhow, Koenig was sitting on the floor by the Dark Horse stand at the San Diego Comic Convention and was looking completely wasted. It was hot and I'd brought a bottle of water not five minutes earlier. I crouched down next to him and offered him my unopened water. He looked up at me with a slight unease in his eyes. "You okay, mate?" I asked. I knew who he was, but at that moment he looked a little distressed.
"Yes, thank you. Just a bit overwhelmed by the heat." His accent was weird , I'd expected Chekov and got US of A. "Have a drop of this." He thanked me and took some of my water. "Can I help you anywhere?" He said no, he was waiting for someone, but thanked me for the offer. I saw him a couple of times during the week and we nodded each time.
I met his fellow Star Trekker Frakes at a party a few nights later. We discussed the transporting of a Morris Minor from England to California. I had only seen one episode of Next Generation when I met him, and he didn't have a beard then, so I was just talking to this guy, at a party. we chatted for nearly an hour. I reckon he'd remember me if I met him again; I'm not a fanboy.
British 'comedian' Jonathan Ross was a regular to comic marts throughout my years in comics. He was a gangly kid in the late 70s - a year older than me, but he didn't look it - and his larger than life self in the 90s. He collects old DCs and I had some Lois Lane comics, in excellent condition he was interested in. They were already fairly priced, but he offered me less than half the asking price on half a dozen he pulled out. I shook my head, "I'll thwo in an autograph as well," he said. "Whose autograph?" I asked and he took 10% discount and didn't seem happy. Jesus, he earned more money than just about everybody in the building.
I was in a lift once with three of the founding creators of Image Comics. Todd McFarlane (famous for buying a baseball for lots of money and the creator of Spawn), Erik Larsen (not really famous for much) and Jim Valentino - the brains behind the outfit. Valentino is a great guy, I've spoken to him several times over the years. He always makes time for you.
There have been more, but they're not worth recounting or you'll just accuse me of name dropping.
This bonus section isn't in the book, because it's been written over the last month or so. The problem with writing a book is that at some point you have to say The End otherwise you'll tinker and change things, add and subtract and eventually will be frightened to call it finished in case you remember something minuscule that doesn't really affect the story, but you feel it isn't complete without it.
This book was, for the first 22 parts, serialised on Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool website (he chickened out of running it because he started to feel it was libellous, which begged the question, why did he run it in the first place?) and while I venture over there on bored late nights to read many of the comments left, I've refrained from getting involved with any of the discussion - I have matured enough to grit my teeth and walk away from inflammatory comments by wannabe imbeciles.
I expect most autobiographies and biographies don't ever have any information in them taken from a first person POV. I must have invented a new genre? This person didn't seem to understand that Bleeding Cool was serialising a book (albeit aborted a third of the way through) about my life and perception of the comics industry from the point I became active in it. It's my recollections, my opinion.
Opinions are indeed like arseholes in that everyone has one; it seems that because of my willingness to share my story I have obtained considerably more arseholes than the average person. Therefore if I'm full of shit, there's the reason!
Next time: more of my one-sided opinions...