I’d been back in the office at CI for about two months when Dez asked me to take the phones during San Diego. He knew I’d be happy to do it and he confided in me that he hoped that this would see the beginning of the end of his business relationship with Sarah. The reason Dez wanted to take Kerry as well and leave me in charge was because, he said, I was the only one he could really trust. I’d gone from pariah to confident (again) in three months.
Meanwhile, back in the San Diego/Wellingborough triangle of July 1998; I’d already spent nearly two hours on the phone to a very drunk Dez, gotten back to sleep only for the phone to wake me again in the morning. Bleary eyed I answered the phone and it was Sarah. Sarah had this habit of alliterating every other word with ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’, which with her posh accent sounded quite remarkable. Sarah wasn’t swearing, she was close to tears. Apparently Dez had gone mad because Kerry had spent the evening with ‘a someone’ we’ve mentioned earlier. She had not come back to the Travel Inn and was, apparently, contemplating an offer of employment from New York. Dez had made all kinds of crazy accusations and ranted about how he’d given her everything and he deserved more than to have her leave him during his treat to her. He acted like a child and embarrassed everyone around him. Kerry stormed off. Sarah tried to be businesslike and the whole thing descended into a farce. The thing was she didn’t really seem to be blaming ‘Derek’ (she never, ever called him Dez) Sarah was blaming Mike. She claimed that he had been filling Dez's mind with ridiculous ideas and accusations. She sounded like she wanted to kill him.
I told her to calm down and give me a ring in the morning, but not too late because of the time difference. While I was on the line to her, I could hear the constant beep of the call interrupt noise. Someone else was trying to get in touch with me. This time it was Kerry. She was quitting. She’d had enough of ‘that arsehole’ and complained bitterly about how he seemed to think she owed him everything she had. She said he behaved like a pimp whose top whore was going solo. She said how awful the entire ordeal had been. I told her not to do anything rash. Kerry was a tough girl and she sounded totally whacked out, I knew that her respect for Dez had turned into utter contempt over the last few months, now it was showing audibly. Just before she hung up she asked me a question, I’ve never been able to give her the answer. “How have you stood it for so long?”
Mike called later, he just wanted to make sure I’d be around on the Tuesday, when they got back, he had lots to talk to me about. He sounded cheerful. Dez was the next on the line and he to seemed to think that Mike had played a big part in it – although like Sarah seeming to think that Mike was involved, Dez seemed to be suggesting that Mike wasn’t at fault but all he was really trying to do was sort out the mess. Yet I still couldn’t work out how, why or what he might have said or done. On the Monday, the four flew back from LAX. They were in different parts of the plane, a cock-up at check in that neither Kerry nor Sarah minded. Had they been there might have been a killing. Because Dez was verbally attacking Mike, while both Sarah and Kerry were also placing the blame firmly on Mike’s shoulders. I doubt he would have survived an onslaught from all three of them. and that is what would have happened.
It turns out that on the first night they were there Kerry had spent the night with a moderately famous comics artist. There had always been an attraction between the two and Kerry was single. Dez had reacted like an over-protective father and had gone to Mike’s room, quite drunk and poured his heart out about his, paternal, feelings for Kerry. Mike, who can shit stir with the best of them, saw this as an opportunity to turn his own screw. He had wanted Kerry gone more than she wanted him gone – he always believed that she held too much power at CI and coupled with the fact that she didn’t like him, Mike felt having Kerry gone would improve his own standing. He also wanted rid of Sarah as well, who he claimed was destructive and a bad influence on Dez – who he was, of course, looking out for. I don’t know what actually was said between the two of them, but when Dez went ballistic in the shellfish restaurant the following evening, things were said that only Mike could have told Dez. The boundaries were drawn and the rest of the week it was Thelma and Louise meets Misery.
When they got back things calmed down for a few weeks, but Kerry was obviously very upset (actually she looked most of the time like she was about to explode in a volley of abuse and spit). There were other things going on that I wasn’t aware of. I was back being Mr Popular and was pushed into playing Judas in the final battle.
Dez knew that while I was a very loyal person, I could be clandestine if I wanted to be. He convinced me that I should start to play the double agent. Sarah trusted me, so did Kerry, he wanted me to find out what was going on. I agreed and I didn’t even get 10 pieces of silver.
The end came just before deadline on the October issue. It was late September and they had been back for about 6 weeks. I got a call about 8pm from Dez, could I come in the following day, we had a problem and he could really do with me helping out – he sounded utterly gutted. I asked what the problem was, but he said it could wait until the morning. It was very unusual for him not to want to talk on the phone – his phone bills were extortionate every quarter.
The next day I arrived in the office and was rather taken aback by what I saw. He’d left it exactly as it had been at 7pm the previous evening. Dez’s story, I’ve never had the opportunity to hear Kerry’s side, was that after starting to talk about San Diego, Kerry asked him not to mention it, but Dez said he needed to ask her a question about it – he claimed it was just to ask her something geographical, but I’ll bet it wasn’t – the trip had been gnawing away at him for the last 6 weeks. Kerry flew off the handle, she threw a scalpel at him, tore up finished pages, threw all of her work on the floor, threw the desk over, grabbed her coat and left. She wasn’t coming back. She also, much to Dez’s horror had called him ‘a cunt’. It wouldn’t be the first time. I don’t know if it was the fact a woman had said it – he has incredibly Victorian principals about women – or if he’d never been called it before, but of course, he had. I think, for the second time in a year, he’d seen what happens when you push someone too far and yet he seemed oblivious to the repercussions; he was, after all, bulletproof and therefore he’d sail as close to the edge as was possible. For Dez, the further he could push the personal envelope was an anthropological study. He was Jammy Bastard.
I just got on with the job. The post mortem lasted for months as Dez tried to get his head round something that the other half of his brain refused take any of the responsibility for – that Kerry had ultimately blamed him for everything. I ended up having to come up with crazy conspiracy theory ideas just to calm him down sometimes. He felt happier thinking there was a plot against him by Kerry and Sarah rather than actually look at his own shortcomings as a human being. And the stupid, stupid man that I am I never tried to make him see the error of his ways. I should have, I felt guilty enough about what I’d done.
The beginning of the end of his business relationship with Sarah also crumbled. Sarah played what she believed would be trump card in her battle – a battle I could never fully understand – she played me. It almost broke my heart when I said to her, “why do you think I’ve been so supportive and have said things to make the two of you open up? He asked me to.” For the first time since I’ve ever known Sarah she was silent. Dez came on the phone and said, “I’ll speak to you tomorrow, mate” – he rarely called me ‘mate’, this was being done to rub salt into her wounds. I hated doing that, but it wasn’t the first time I’d allowed myself to be Dez’s tool, or vessel for his hate and control. I’ve tried to contact Sarah in the intervening years - to say sorry, but she’s fallen so far off the radar she could be dead for all I know.
There was an American kid who fancied himself as a future hotshot in the news field. He had a popular website and a lot of the pros were beginning to trust him. Michael Doran had a dream he eventually fulfilled, his dream was to work for Marvel – they fired him a couple of years later, but his CV had what he always wanted – a spot that included Marvel as an employer. Doran had been something of a thorn in our side from almost the moment he started. We weren’t exactly renowned for scoops, because we were in the UK and most of what happens in comics takes place in New York, we always struggled for non-British scoops.
The first time Doran contacted us was to claim that something we had run in the Internet column Networks had not been credited to him. Dez explained to me that I should write to him and explain that because of the nature of the column we don’t owe him any credit at all. It was reportage and we were reporting on other people’s comments on this particular news story. Doran didn’t like the answer. A couple of months later we did the unthinkable; I remember it well, we were on deadline, an advertiser had failed to deliver a half page, we’d been working almost constantly for 36 hours and I threw together a half page of just released news. CI came out on the newsstands two weeks after Doran released the news, it was hardly an infringement on his story. But Doran claimed that quotes from a specific creator were given to him and no one else and therefore we’d stolen his story and given him no credit. In all fairness to the guy he wasn’t asking for much, but Dez considered comics news to be fair game and once it was out there it was in the public domain – and besides a lot of creators used quotes from their own interviews in their press releases, there was always going to be a problem somewhere down the line with someone as precious as Doran. Comics companies wouldn’t hassle him because they were getting what they wanted and didn’t have to pay for it – good cheap coverage. We were doing the same thing, so the publishers couldn’t give a shit about our petty squabbles, just so long as their product gets promoted – for free.
Dez treated Doran like a child, but used me to do it. I’d tried very hard to get on the right side of Doran, he was a humourless bastard at the best of times, but I managed to convince him that I was the good guy and we could work something out.
Then, back in the days when CompuServe was a force on the Internet, on one of the growing number of comics discussion forums, a debate started by Doran and intended to incite Dez backfired on me without my knowledge. It did incense Dez, who then used my CompuServe account to reply to Doran. It was quite rude and very deconstructive. He’d ruined that relationship because I was going to be hard pressed to convince Doran that I hadn’t actually written what was said. It descended even further into name-calling and because it was a Comics International supported forum Doran got frightened off, he was, after all, still small beans. Then things continued to happen, we were receiving press releases from creators that were using their interviews with Doran for their own PR. He continued to call us on it and even threatened to attempt to sue us if we continued to do it. Dez, unknown to me, saw a way of getting Doran away from our door – invite him in. Dez believed Doran ideal as a news editor and he’d have the drop on almost every one. But if Michael Doran was nothing else, he’s got integrity. He emailed me and told me that Dez had been sounding him out about being paid to supply news for CI, this added to the confrontation Dez and I had after my mother died. It gave me just a little bit more ammunition.
By the time I departed CI, I tried to mend the bridges with Doran, but I could understand why he was reluctant to even give me any respect. To him it must have seemed like he was dealing with a fucking crazy schizophrenic Englishman who one moment was Mr Nice Guy and the next was publicly debunking him elsewhere. By the time Doran took over in Marvel’s press department I could at least communicate with him, but boy were there undertones in all of our communications. I don’t know if he loved it or hated it. I loved it when they fired him, a completely unchristian thing to do, but the twerp deserved it; he had a reputation (and still does) for being arrogant and abrasive.
The next few months, as CI healed from Kerry departure, I soon realised that Dez needed someone to train to do all the admin and I convinced him that he should get a kid in, either on work experience or as an apprentice, like I had laughingly been described as. He liked this idea and began to look at people who answered the advert he put in CI. We had a poor lot of applicants and Dez had decided, quite against equal opportunities, that he was going to employ a girl. His first attempt, while unbelievably worthy of him, was a total failure. Not only was the girl in question completely useless, she also looked like an extra from a George Romero film about overweight zombies. She was brought down from Scotland, offered a piddling salary and was fired after 4 days. Dez offered her £100 compensation, so she could get a train back to Glasgow. At the time we had an Italian-Canadian journalist working with us, on a freelance basis. I got on reasonably well with her, but you could see there was a problem with Dez. For starters she knew so much more about neologisms and the modern use of language than he did and a number of house rules were changed because she basically forced him to change them. She told Dez to shove his work shortly after the fat girl was packed onto a train back north of the border. She said to me the day she quit that Dez was a monster and an unbelievably sexist, racist pig with no realisation of the people he tramples over in the pursuit of his own beliefs – which were all driven by his monstrous persona. I didn’t disagree with her...
Next week: at the third stroke it will be... more of the same.