Monday, 12 September 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Twenty-Eight)

A year before I started full-time with Dez, a BBC journalist called David Akinsenya spent three weeks working on CI. He left citing that Dez was a repulsive racist. I’ve got to say it’s a fair description, except he left out sexist, misogynist and any other ‘ist’ you can think of that is viable.

Kerry’s replacement eventually appeared over the counter at the local print and photocopy shop. Loriann was just 16 when she got the job in ProntoPrint. The manager, Dave, had often told Dez that he only gave her the job because of her fabulous arse and to be fair I was among the many that had commented on it and the rest of her body for that matter (and as I was still a relatively young man I felt no shame or embarrassment). One day we were sitting in the local café having lunch and talking about the pretty little thing in Finchley Central and the next day she’s there, having an interview with us and starting the following Monday.

In all fairness, for all her alleged scheming and bitchy ways, she was great at her job and did a lot more than Kerry did because of her youthful exuberance. Dez treated her like a daughter (he actually has two, but one of them didn’t ever want to see him), and Loriann, naïve and young, took everything this new sugar daddy was offering. Well, almost everything.

April rolled round and it was time for the first annual Bristol Comics festival. We were all looking forward to it and all four of us were going. Both Mike and I had noticed that Dez was becoming more and more infatuated with his young helper. He was becoming obsessed with her love life and I was forever reminding him that Loriann came from a completely different generation from us and was over 30 years younger than him. He seemed to accept this logic every time; it just didn’t stop him from obsessing about everything in the girl’s life. We all arrived in Bristol and hit the bar at midday on the Friday; it was a very, very, bad thing. Mike, a cola drinker, remained sober all day and night, but by the time a horde of us had decided to go to the local Italian restaurant for food, Dez, Loriann and I were three sheets to the wind. We’d all been on double gin and tonics all day and I was having trouble keeping it together.

The restaurant was a disaster. There were 16 of us and the bill was being paid by Nick Barruchi, an entrepreneur comics dealer from New York, who owned Dynamic Forces, a company that sprouted from the speculator market and was now the biggest supplier of deluxe editions to the comics industry. Dez sat at one end of a long table with me to his left and Loriann to his right. Next to us were a couple of relatively famous comics creators, including Dave Gibbons and Glenn Fabry and further down the table were more people from comics, either working or freelancing. Dez gets loud when he’s drunk, he also wants to be the centre of attention – all the time. He wanted to show off his sexy young assistant Loriann to the world. Wasn’t she just the most gorgeous thing? Loriann loved this, but she loved it in the way a small child is the focus of attention at her birthday party. I don’t think she realised just how obsessed he was with her, and when she did finally realise, once she’d got her repulsion under control, she started to milk it even more.

I needed to pee. So I went off to the downstairs toilets. Moments later I heard the commotion. It sounded like a table falling over. There were some loud voices and I was sure I heard Dez shout Loriann’s name very loudly. I finished my piss as fast as I could and walked out onto wreckage – human wreckage. Dez was slumped by the door of the ladies begging for Loriann to come out. “Please Loriann, please just let me explain. I need to explain”. I walked over to Dez but he wasn’t making any sense at all. I pulled him to his feet and said for him to go back to his seat and I’d talk to Loriann. I didn’t have a clue what about, but I said I would. He was happy with this, but emphasised that I needed to tell her he was sorry, and then he staggered up the stairs. I dreaded to think what the hell had gone on upstairs – although I was beginning to get some ideas.

I knocked on the door of the ladies and told Loriann it was me, and the door unbolted and she literally pulled me into the cubicle with her. She was in a mess. Crying and she had been sick as well. She looked like a lost kid; even her nose was snotty. What had happened? This seemed to be a question I was forever asking of Dez Skinn.

“He told me he loved me and I said that I loved him too.” She had all the innocence of a week-old rabbit in her eyes. “And then… and then…” she just broke down into a shudder of sobs. I eventually coaxed it out of her, “He told me that he wanted to make love to me, that he would give me anything I ever wanted if I… if I would go to bed with him.” She shuddered into tears again and I shut my eyes and wondered if he’d sunk this low before. I was sober by now, with a stinking headache. I went back upstairs and told the guests who cared that I was taking Loriann back to the hotel. I told Mike I’d meet him there in an hour, but to get Dez out of the restaurant and in his bed. This proved difficult for him, but not impossible. I saw to Loriann, she had called her boyfriend and cried her eyes out. He was going to come and get her, her family were phoning and I calmed everyone down and did a shitty thing to the poor girl, I told everyone that Dez was very drunk and hadn’t meant it the way it sounded and that he was estranged from his own daughter and he just felt over protective towards her. I wasn’t convinced, but it seemed to take the intensity off the situation. About an hour later I made my way to the hotel lobby to look for Mike and to find out what had actually happened while I was urinating.

It wasn’t as bad as I first feared, and very few people had heard anything. Most thought that Loriann’s bolt from the table had been brought on by a need to vomit and Dez basically got away with it. A couple of people saw and heard it all though… One of them was Dave Gibbons, co-creator of Watchmen and one of Dez’s oldest ‘friends’ in comics. They had spent many years not talking to each other, but time is a great healer and they were (not quite) mates again. Dave was disgusted by it and was always quick to talk to me about it for years to come. For him it was just another unfortunate incident in the rather tragic life of Dez Skinn.

Dez, the next morning, didn’t seem to know what the fuss was all about (where have we heard that before?). But he either couldn’t remember what had happened or he refused to. I eventually had to refresh his memory and yet he was still denying it a year later. The problem I had that morning was a massive hangover that was impeding with me from doing anything but look for a chemist. Dez was rewriting history by the hour and was arguing with me that Loriann had made all the moves, he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of ‘she ran away in terror when he suggested them having sex, that doesn’t sound like she’s interested’ Fortunately for him we were joined in our hunt for a chemist by a couple of my friends.

I finally met up with Loriann after finding a Superdrug and leaving Dez over at one of the convention’s exhibitions. She was fine and didn’t feel too bad. She also had a lot to consider during the night. In the short time she had been with QCL she’d had a wage raise that took her to earning more money than either Mike or I. Plus because it was terribly difficult for her to get in from Southgate to Finchley (5 miles maximum) Dez bought her an almost new sporty Peugeot. She had to decide what she wanted to do. She wasn’t prepared to sleep with the boss, but she could use it to her benefit. She was still very wet behind the ears, but the decisions she made were very adult, albeit very mercenary. (And to think that was the accusation thrown at me when my employment there terminated!) But it all boiled down to whether or not she could put up with the lascivious beast for the money – it seemed she could.

Shortly after the Bristol incident, Dez received a couple of bogus phone calls, both involved answer machine messages and the word ‘cunt’. Dez swears it was Loriann’s boyfriend, despite her always steadfastly denying his involvement. I wish I could take the blame, but I can’t. I think it was her boyfriend and I think it was the main reason why she eventually dumped him.

Life went back to normal. I found myself in a new position, my fourth and last at CI. I was declared the new Features Editor, which was a bit of a misnomer, as CI didn’t really do features. But it was my brief to introduce new things into CI. We added another new member to the team, in the form of Bruce Paley, an American writer living and formerly running a comics shop, in London, that once had the distinction of being owned by Dez. Bruce joined us as one of the listings editors, but was also invited to editorial meetings, which had now become big things as Dez at least gave the impression that we were all working together as a team.

The only real thing of note that happened in the following year was that Loriann grew in stature. By the time CI moved into the 21st Century she had virtually taken over huge sections of the magazine. Sarah, who was still hanging on by the skin of her teeth to her position couldn’t stand the girl, but the feeling was mutual. Loriann had grown in ability and self-importance and the only thing really stopping her from making the grade in Dez’s eyes was her new boyfriend. A college student who was nearly a year younger than her, who to all intents and purposes, seemed destined to be a waste of space. I met him the once, one night when I took her home. He seemed about as ignorant as you could possibly wish to meet without some form of mental illness involved. But then again he wasn’t even 17 then. He could be a diplomat now.

By the time December 2000 rolled around there were more rumblings in the CI jungle. For some reason my relationship had become strained with Dez again, it seemed to deteriorate throughout the year and Loriann became the go-between for us, despite the fact I was still going down three days a month. There were more arguments between us than there had been since I returned to work for him and more and more times we weren’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye. Things started to go wrong and I couldn’t understand why, but I soon began to realise. I’d been doing a column for the magazine since my return called Hallmarks, which was essentially a round up of all the related film, TV and fantasy news. It established itself and eventually complemented the new Toy News column that had been introduced after a unanimous decision to broaden our horizons. The two columns gave CI that extra broader appeal, in case anyone wanted it. It was also taking CI away from pure comics. He felt it was bad enough that Mike could get a monthly fee for a speculative comics to film column, but toys, fantasy news, we'd be running ads for rare records soon. However, because the columns had honeymoon periods where they were appreciated by the as yet net savvy readers and because they were other people’s ideas, Dez got the arse. He couldn't criticise for content, so he came up with new, inventive ways, of having a go.

I suppose I’d better describe an average issue of CI from when I was there: on average towards the middle of my time there it was about 72-pages and consisted of about 32 pages of editorial that was split across pages. Of the 40 remaining 4 were the cover, back cover, and inners (3 were adverts at a much higher ad rate), the rest of the pages were made up of full page, half page and quarter page advertisements. There were on average 12 pages of news, 6 pages of listings, 4 pages of reviews and 8 pages of columns and features. The columns and features included Mike Conroy’s Frame to Frame – a roundup of all the film news relating to comics; my four columns, Hotshots – a look at the forthcoming titles worth looking out for (or not), Networks – which was a comics and the Internet mish-mash of anything comics related found on the net – Hallmarks and Movers & Shakers. There was also Dez’s editorial, Sarah’s (by then rare) column about how the press treats comics, (Toy News fell into news and not features) and eventually David Bishop’s column, which was supposed to be the insights of a former 2000AD editor and turned into a load of old bollocks and further ruined the New Zealander’s reputation. There was also a letters column, a Question and Answer section, a comic strip and a comments section for any letters that exceeded letters page lengths. The editorial page count also fluctuated – the more adverts the more editorial and vice versa...

I got wind that Dez was not happy about Hallmarks because there were an increasing number of complaints about my layouts from him, including specifics that just contradicted stuff he’d said at other times. We actually did operate like a real publishing house at times, we had House Rules or a House Style, but this was really a flexible arrangement suiting Dez to change it whenever he wanted to have a moan about something. Just to prove that his rulebook was really an Etch-a-Sketch, I received an email from Dez saying the style was completely wrong and that I’d put the entire column into a style we would never use for that specific column. He added that it was the only thing ‘wrong’ with the column (but it wasn’t really wrong, it was just another excuse for Dez to bully, or in this case to start trying to bully me again). The weird thing was he was reverting to his cowardly persona – he never said a word to me when we were together, but via email and he became really shitty. All of the problems were conveyed by email, I was quick with my reply and my email read:

Re: Un-Hallmarks styled four-column grid.

Personally I think it looks boring now you’ve ‘jazzed’ it up, but perhaps if you actually sat down and wrote a detailed list of our ever-changing house rules then we wouldn't make such STUPID errors that you never do. I found seven examples in the last 30 issues where we've had two, two column grids on one page. In fact in the old days they were quite rife...

Well, that's me that can't get it right, Jim can't get it right and Mike can't get it right and you laughed at my suggestion of having an in-house designer! What were your words? "That's the beauty of getting you all to do your own layouts" - what is, so you get to have a go even though you can't find anything particularly wrong with something? I wouldn't mind if your principals actually stayed consistent or you actually chose to remember important things.

Remarkably nothing came out from this. I expected some form of abuse hurled my way, maybe even a sacking, but Dez remained quiet. Obviously I was beginning to understand him even better, better than he wanted. But the truth was he’d had a wake up call from his accountant – the good times were over and CI was in trouble. It was barely making any money at all by the end of December 2000 and he was keeping it all to himself and expressing his frustration in the only way he could – by attacking those who he depended on the most.

Next up: the beginning of the end...

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