Within two months Hallmarks was a thing of the past. I wasn’t happy about the loss because I’d just lost one of my other freelance jobs and even though it was only £75 a month, it was enough for my wife to start bank balance watching. I accepted, with little argument, it wasn’t the most popular column, so it went. I just expected Dez to give me something else to develop or create, but he didn’t.
It wouldn’t have been so bad losing that £75 if I hadn’t already given up another of my earners six months previous to this. I’d taken up the editing and laying out of the comics advance listings, part of the magazine that was used as a retail aid and doubled as a cheaper and easy way to skim over what Diamond Previews (Diamond Comics Distributors own monthly sales list) was listing. It was something of an achievement for me too, it was the first time I had been able to oversee to finished. Yes, they would be checked, everything was, but I was responsible for the entire production of them, all Dez did was scan for mistakes. I was running the show and I did something that Bruce probably still hates me for, but I really didn’t think it was a nasty idea and still don’t – it just sort of backfired on Bruce.
After my third or fourth month of editing Bruce’s listings and laying them out, I realised that I was probably putting more work in than he was, yet he was getting £200 for the listings and I was getting £50 for the rest of it. I asked Dez to ask Bruce how long the listings took him, compared to the 8 to 9 hours it took me to finish. It took Bruce about 3 hours. Dez asked me if I wanted to do the lot for £200 (which was of course what he paid Bruce just to write them up – he’s a Yorkshireman, he watches the pennies). I declined. The work I had from Dez and my other freelance work meant that, at that time, I could afford the luxury of turning down a job. I shouldn’t have. At least as it turned out, I shouldn’t have if I wanted to stay at CI.
I’d made some stupid mistakes while I’d been there, but none so bad as suggesting to Dez that I knew someone, who was proficient in the software we used, who could write and layout the Advance Listings in less time and possibly better produced. I introduced Dez to Jim Hannah, one of my brother-in-law’s best friends and the beginning of the end began. My suggestion was that Jim should do the Advance Listings section; the logic being that he had no interest in comics, so he would approach it in a dry and factual way. I figured that Bruce would make up his money from another area of the magazine; I had no idea that Dez would effectively sack him and put the onus on me for it happening. Bruce, apparently, blames me for losing his freelance work at CI and he probably has every right to, despite it never being my intention. I thought he was far more valuable to the magazine than Dez did, obviously.
I think the rift reopened when I realised after turning down work that I actually needed to increase it and there was no longer anything obvious to be earned at CI. Dez liked the new boy I’d introduced to him and Jim, who lived in Northampton at the time, could flit down there at almost a moment’s notice. Jim had no interest in comics, but was keen with websites and had a Masters Degree in English Lit and Samuel Beckett, so he fitted a lot of Dez’s criteria for a good apprentice. He was given the listings and took to them like a duck to water. I was happy for Jim and for a few months everyone was happy. Loriann was still moaning about Mike, prompting me to wonder if her attacks would turn on me if she succeeded in ridding Dez of Mike. What was it about the women who worked with this man that turned them into such nasty bitches? And Loriann thought Jim was really cute, if not a little weird. But then there were signs that things weren’t going well.
I freely admit I started to suffer from sour grapes a little regarding Jim, and suddenly to make matters worse Dez went on a massive cost cutting exercise. This was under the pretext that he was now spending too much in lieu of all the bad debts that QCL had to hold on to – if he’d only been straight with us from the start! The first things both Mike Conroy and I noticed was that between Christmas 2000 and April 2001 our monthly cheques had dropped by 33%, yet we were actually putting in more time and starting to both get more grief from Dez. I also became aware that while we were being cut back, Loriann had recently had her fifth wage rise and was now on something close to £25,000 a year at barely 18 – not to mention the company car and paid holidays. I held no malice towards the girl at all, and we were still pretty close, but because her relationship with Mike started to mirror his and Kerry's a couple of years earlier I was still concerned. Loriann spent more and more time running Mike down and complaining about his work, the rate he turned pages round, what a fat bastard he was, how he made her feel creepy when he was around and generally she had decided that she wanted me there full time again and Mike could fuck off. This was one of the few times she failed in her wishes, but it got pretty close for a while.
The cost cutting exercise wasn’t the first either. I mentioned that Dez had had problems with the Inland Revenue back in 1995-1996. He ran QCL like an employer, but didn’t want all the crap that employer’s have to deal with like taxation, PAYE and holidays and sickness. So, as I said we were all self-employed. But we all got flat rates. Not for the work we did but for the days we worked. This created a real headache for Dez. Read the email he sent me in the August of ’96:
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 1996 12:24:35
Subject: Costing issues
From: Dez Skinn
There's a few problems we need to talk about. I'll try to give you a ring before I fly off to Prague (early next week). No, it isn't just pleasure. I'm trying to set something up over there with #### ##### because I'm seriously worried about the state of publishing /retail in the UK, and can see a dwindling market for specialist stuff. If it wasn't for the catalogues in CI, it wouldn't work, what with us losing so many full page retail advertisers and there being no publisher advertising support (thank god for marts and mail order).
Basically, to elaborate, I'm going to have to look at costing everything out the way we cost Movers, Networks, Frame to Frame. That is, having a copy typing rate per 1,000 words and a writing (news, columns, etc) rate per 1,000 words. Alan's already told me I can't pay "day rates" any more (irrespective of this Inland Rev fiasco). It has to be by work done, not time spent.
I'm currently trying to get the time to grid up a rates scale for the entire mag.
Sorry to land this on you. But my main problm is simple: the mag can't really afford me any more.
I'll keep you posted, but at this stage, I really can't even ask you to start the next Advance Listings. Anything not copy typing (which removes Letters, Comment, Networks) has to be costed out over the next few days, so one knows the rate for the job.
I guess this is the culmination of four key factors (in no particular order):
(ii) Shrinking market meaning tightening of belt
(iii) My no longer being able to devote 100% of my time to the mag
(iv) The Inland Revenue situation
I'll try to call you Monday.
Editor: Comics International
(Now, I’ve left it as is, just to prove that even a man who believes he’s the greatest editor on the planet can be prone to countless errors and don’t you just like the way he’s off to Prague – not just for pleasure, while telling me that the magazine needs a new finance structure? He bought another Jaguar, a few weeks after telling Mike and I that we wouldn’t be getting a rate rise that year.)
What happened was that after costing everything I ended up with virtually the same amount of money as I was on before, but every penny was now accounted for by actual physical product of some way or another. But Dez’s main problem was, like he said, he couldn’t afford to pay himself for doing virtually bugger all every month. Yet after the costings were done, my money should have dropped from about £1250 a month to £900, but Movers & Shakers, which had always been paid on a freelance rate was added after so that boosted it back up to just over a grand and then I got another £200 for going into the office and filling invoices out for ‘general administration duties’. The money fluctuated from time to time, as did Dez’s contribution, but in reality all of the above email ended up being hot air. Dez was addicted to his lifestyle and if he had to do more work to maintain it, he wouldn’t have maintained it. If all he had to do were spend less than a week in every four working, then he would make the books balance. So, despite all the posturing and pleading that the good times stopped, they didn’t, he just changed his payment methods so that the Inland Revenue couldn’t screw him for potentially fraudulent employment practices. And this continued until he sold the magazine, as far as I know...
Next: we travel back to 1997...