We need to jump back into our shaky time machine, this time to 1997; I created the first (and only not-officially-sanctioned-by-Dez) Comics International Internet chat forum, it was on a now defunct part of the ‘net called Egroups.
Egroups eventually merged with Onelist and then become what we still have – Yahoogroups. It was, for a while before Facebook and MySpace, a huge domain with hundreds upon thousands of different forums and discussion groups, but it was still pretty much a growing monster back then. Bored one evening and trying to come up with ways of improving CI’s circulation, I started the CI list. It started quite slowly, but suddenly took off as more of CI’s readers gained ‘net access and subsequently more coverage of it was given over the magazine. Called [Comics_International], it boasted over 600 members at its peak and had well over 3000 messages flying through cyberspace, in all directions, every month. Dez didn’t like the fact I created it, but soon saw the potential as a cheap form of revenue, especially if we reprinted the best bits of the forum in the magazine. He only had to pay for collation.
Initially Dez was excited about the forum as I was, but it soon became apparent to him that I was the lord and master of that particular domain and even if Dez appeared on the list he said he felt like he was walking into my thing. It wasn’t his, he had no control over it and that was his only real problem, so he tried a number of times to exert his control, and it always backfired. He didn’t want to understand the whys and wherefores of the ‘net, he wanted to steamroller it in the same way he did everything else and leave his imprint behind. The list never allowed him to do that, mainly because there were enough equally forthright and opinionated old timers on the list, eagerly waiting to have a pop at Dez whenever he showed his head. So he just slipped into obscurity as a lurker (someone who watches but doesn’t post) and the only time he reappeared was if someone asked him a direct question or if I fucked up. When I say ‘fucked up’ I actually mean when he didn’t like something I said. It was one of the few things he had to suffer from me, but sometimes I just liked to speak my mind. After all, it was my opinion and my right to speak my mind on subjects, but Dez wouldn’t have it, as far as he was concerned I was a CI employee and I had to toe the corporate line*. I wasn’t allowed my own opinion unless I allowed it to be censored first. And yes, I would usually allow this infringement on my personal liberty to take place.
Gah, some of you must be thinking what a complete wanker I am to put up with this kind of behaviour. Trust me, I hate myself at times, but it I got so involved in it by this time that getting away from it meant going back to the drudgery of shelf-stacking or road-sweeping. I hated working with Dez, but, if you’ll excuse the analogy, he was my period - My Monthly Curse! For a few days every four weeks, I had to put up with being treated like a cunt and then it was gone; the stress and strain, the insults, the innuendo, the abuse all stopped, or at least dropped by 90%.
[* In December 2000 I inadvertently released information, at two points, that I shouldn’t have. The first was a discussion Dez and I had had about the circulation of the magazine – not in actual figures but in percentages – I doubt a mathematician could have worked out what CI’s 'official' circulation was by the year 2000 (it was about 8,000 by this point) but the fact I’d been talking to the plebs about sales figures had suddenly become a huge no-no for him. He really tore into me on this and wouldn’t let me forget it despite apologising. The second incident that prompted Dez to ask me if I was trying to commit subterfuge – we’d been talking about producing another CI special (he’d produced one to keep the copyright on Warrior), this time about Miracleman, the character that Dez had lost the rights to when he was editor of Warrior. The character and its rightful owner became the subject of much discussion throughout comics. I truly believed that Dez was serious about this special, so did Loriann and I stupidly told some of the fans on the list about it and before you knew what happened it was all over the internet that Dez was about to resurrect Miracleman. He was even less happy about this than the sales nonsense.]
After a year or two and with no success in trying to turn it more into what he expected a comics discussion forum to be like, Dez virtually turned his back on the CI Forum. He equally didn’t like a lot of the people we had on there and when, in 2000, many of us met at the Bristol Festival, they did not accept Dez in the grand manner he expected. He especially didn’t like the way I commanded their respect and he was largely ignored. I wasn’t deliberately doing it, but it was by then both Mike and I had become known as the real people at CI – the actual people who made the difference, Dez was just this drunken figurehead we wheeled out at conventions. People believed we were the people who actually saw that things got into print. We were the people you talked to, Dez had become a cross-between a benign benefactor and a falling impresario. He hated this and it was clear. He hated it because in his mind it simply wasn’t true. The sad truth was he had become this stereotype of his own persona.
Comics chat groups and Internet clubs: there were thousands of them before Facebook all ranging from 2 to 20,000 members. They were the resurrection of old style comics fandom with nerdiness to the Nth degree. I could fill an entire book just listing them, but as with most other things there’s a forum for every type of comic and many characters and creators.
Many of the forums are policed, they have owners and moderators - moderators are people assigned by the owners to… moderate. To make sure that the language stays clean, no one starts what are called flame wars and generally make sure the subjects stay vaguely on topic. The list I ran for Comics_International was a very liberal group. We didn’t allow swearing because of kids, but generally it was anything goes. I figured people had other mutual interests, so why clutter up the net with new groups when they could talk about anything as long as they labelled it as such.
Shortly after I created the list, I asked an old friend and CI contributor Mike Kidson to help me run the place. He was good because he was on line a lot, he was one of the most knowledgeable comics authorities in the land and he could easily stimulate conversation, something that was needed if we wanted the new list to be a success. By the time we became part of the conglomeration known as Yahoo I’d recruited two more people to be moderators; Dan (from South East London) and Sara (from Birmingham). We had a busy forum, so I needed the help and besides I was now working harder at CI and I had my other jobs.
2000 was a slightly traumatic year for me because we moved house twice and that is a problem, especially, when you’re freelancing. Dez viewed this as just another hindrance to his ordered control freak life. I really believe he thought I was doing it on purpose and Mike Conroy confirmed this suspicion. I often had long calls from Mike claiming that Dez was doing nothing but running me down and complaining about me never being available. Other allegations included that I was deliberately not letting him have my other telephone number. This was a fair allegation; the wife had decided that as we had two phone lines we’d have a phone line that was Dez Skinn free. He hated this with a real passion. But at the same time I had him on the phone complaining about Mike’s numerous failings and his frequency to sail very close to the deadline with his work – which was a real bugbear for Mr Perfection. For the first time since Dez replaced me with him I heard him say, “I think I might have made a mistake.” He always quantified this with something like “even with your faults I never had to worry like I do with Mike.” I was still going down to the office at this time, mainly because Mike couldn’t – he had got to the point where he was making stories up to stop himself from having to go into Finchley. Both Dez and I thought he was heading for a breakdown, but where I was worried for the poor sod, Dez was worried about how he could get each issue out and what he’d do if Mike ended up cracking up completely. It was pathetic, there was I saying, “Dez, the guy is your oldest friend, he might stop on the way home one night and just throw himself off the Dartford Bridge.” And there’s Dez saying, “Well, I suppose between the two of us we can muddle through on the news, do you think we could attract someone like Steve Holland to do the British stuff.” And he wasn’t joking; he didn’t give a shit about anyone. (Steve Holland, I mentioned earlier, was the former-editor of Comics World.)
But by the time the year drew to a close there were three deeply disturbed old farts each trying to dig the knife into each other’s backs. I don’t believe I was doing it maliciously and I’d love to believe Mike wasn’t either, but history isn’t a good witness for him. I think Dez wanted to rid himself of one of us, because of the financial implications and he would be happy with either of us going...
Next: the end... of my time at Comics International