Saturday, 1 October 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Thirty-One)

Just what did Mike do in San Diego that caused all the shit with Sarah and Kerry? What had Dez blamed him for and now, years later, was in danger of repeating? Mike was good at theorising and somehow managed to make you believe that the most malicious scenario is the most likely.

I wouldn’t call him an evil man, but he isn’t the good Catholic he likes people to believe he is. There was a very devious man lurking underneath the false surface of a tender and emotional man. Dez never told me directly what he said about the girls, but I think he decided it was a good time to try and rid Dez of the 'unhelpful element in our boy's club' and he read the situation very badly and almost ended up in deep shit, being cast as a scheming old fishwife and shit stirrer. If Dez hadn’t been so desperate in his need to bully a subordinate, I think Mike’s relationship with the magazine could have ended after that San Diego debacle.

When you work in such an isolated location and have very little to do with the outside world everything becomes insular and you become like your job. CI was facing terrible financial crises at the turn of the millennium and both Mike and I were facing poverty, yet still working as many hours as Dez could physically wring out of us. He was forever telling us we should get extra work, but we never found the time – we didn’t actually have any free time apart from ten days after an issue was finished and even then we were ‘expected’ to be ‘on call’. Besides, after all those years, I cared about the magazine. I might not have cared about Dez very much by then, but the monthly grind was different. People depended on us. It was a service.

Over the space of about five months more money was spent on phone calls than anywhere else on the planet. We never talked between us, just to each other. Dez and I were still increasingly worried about Mike’s mental health, Mike and I were worried about Dez’s unknown plan, and Dez and Mike were trying to work out what was going on with me and a vicious circle was forming. I personally believe that Dez made some bad decisions in that year, but his Jammy Bastard factor was still working and he didn’t suffer too badly as a result. Dez started trying to turn Mike against me and vice versa, not really aware that Mike and I were constantly on the phone to each other with updates (not that I was telling Mike that both Dez and I thought he’d gone barking mad). It was mired in shit, but every solution I offered about Mike, Dez was reluctant to take up. He agreed the ideas were good, but understand it from his narrow mind; he didn’t want to rock the boat anymore than it already was – he was scared of making the wrong decision, especially if it meant he actually had to do some work. I kept emphasising to him that as the man who pays the wages he had to make the difficult decisions and we were talking about getting some help for Mike because the man sounded like he was losing it, big time. He’d agree and we’d have the same conversation, almost verbatim a week later and then a week after that. Dez can be the epitome of Groundhog Day.

The thing was so many of the conversations blurred into one and the real problems were never addressed. Wounds appeared that weren’t even noticeable that would fester over the next few months and come to a head at Bristol 2001.

With hindsight Dez had to do something. If I’d have been him I think I would have brought everyone together and tried to work out what was going wrong, what people’s problems were and how we could solve it. But Dez knew, deep down, that he was, ultimately, at the root of all the problems; so an exercise like that would be nothing but counter-productive.

As May approached and the Comics Festival was dawning, Dez informed me that all the rooms were booked and he would see me in the Waterfront bar at about 3pm. I spent a horrid time driving to Bristol, on the first day of a very hot weekend, I arrived at the usual hotel and walked up to the counter.

There was no room for me? There must be a mistake, check again? Skinn, Conroy and Cassaday. Not one for me. I boiled over. (John Cassaday, one of today’s big stars, was still just making it in the industry at the time and we’d all got friendly with him a couple of years earlier – his room wasn’t an issue as far as I was concerned, he was going to pay for it.)

Leaving my stuff in the boot, I stormed over to the Waterfront. I was seething. What the fuck had he done this time? I spoke to him that morning and he said the rooms were booked, etc? I walked into the bar and Mike saw the look on my face, he ducked. Dez was sitting with a number of representatives from Rebellion, the company that had just bought the rights to publish 2000AD and Judge Dredd. I was oblivious to them. He could have had the pope and the queen there and I would not have given a flying fuck. The rest of the bar was full of numerous comics people, fanboys and regular faces at these events.

“Can I have a word?” Very quietly.

“Pull up a seat, get yourself a beer.”

“I’d like a word.” A little louder.

“What’s the problem?” No real concern.

“I don’t think you’ll want me to talk about this in front of other people.” A little louder still.

“You can say whatever you want, we’re all friends here.”

“Er…” Mike was about to butt in, I threw him what must have been an awful look because he just clamped his mouth shut.

“Where’s my fucking room?”

“At the hotel.” Still not sounding bothered.

“Which hotel?”

“That one.” He said pointing at the Jurys across the river Avon.

“No, it isn’t. Perhaps you’d like to come with me and sort it out.”

“Oh, it’s probably just a clerical error, have a drink, we’ll sort it out later.”

“The girl who I chewed out on reception didn’t seem to think it was a clerical error. She read me out the three reservations you made and my name wasn’t one of them.”

“Oh, we’ll sort it out.”

“I’m hot. I’m tired. I’ve had a shit journey here, I just want to get changed and have a shower.”

“Look, stop being an arse. Sit down and relax.” I lost it and so did the volume control.

“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we go over to the hotel and sort out the room, right now, otherwise I’m going to pick you up and throw you OUT OF THE FUCKING WINDOW!” I was ready to have a go, right there and then. I was going to knock that smug fucking look off his face, but before it could escalate Mike stepped in and grabbed my shoulder.

“You’re sharing with me?”

“What? No disrespect Mike but that’s just not on. You don’t just tell someone the day they arrive that he’s sharing with someone.” Turning back to Dez, “I might know the guy, Dez, but I don’t know him!” I looked at Mike with half an apology in my eyes; he knew where I was coming from. Mike made a move towards the door and Dez, who had grown quiet and was aware of a large number of people turned our way, looked at me and said, “Don’t ever talk to me like that again.”

“Don’t fuck with me Skinn, not again.” And Mike and I walked back over to the hotel.

I had nothing against sharing with Mike, but having heard horror stories about his snoring, and the fact he looks like a beached whale made me feel very insecure and frankly a little uncomfortable. I had expected to be able to do what I usually do and just slob around my room and not have to worry. I wasn’t being paid for this weekend and a single room was better than nothing. This year I got nothing. The first night Mike snored so loudly people thought the building was falling down. By 4 in the morning I’d given up trying to sleep and took a walk around Bristol and waited for somewhere to open. I rolled back about 7.30 with Mike still snoring. I took a shower and made a lot of noise. He got up and I went to bed for a few hours. But I’m getting ahead of myself with trivia. That evening when Mike and I returned for the evening’s events Dez approached me and was immediately in an apologetic stance. We sat down by the quayside and had what would probably be the last real conversation we’ll ever have. We talked about how his life had changed dramatically in the previous few months and he had finally decided that he was moving to Brighton to set up home with his new pregnant girlfriend. I congratulated him and as we sat in the cool evening air, with our legs swinging over the quayside and smoked a big spliff, it seemed to be a civilised way to sort of end our long friendship. It didn’t end then, but it would never be the same. In fact, it would go horribly wrong within the month.

My main job at Bristol ended up being something altogether different, but as that is all another part of the story I’ll conclude the Dez saga first.

We also met with another bunch of the CI forum people again over that weekend which, for a change, was relatively uneventful for CI and the team, apart from the fact that Mike snored for England on the Saturday night and I gave up the idea of sleeping and got stoned instead.

The only thing of note that happened on the Saturday night was after Dez had been involved in a long and heated debate with some creators, a couple of which included ex-Warrior contributors. He was very drunk and a bit pissed off, he wanted to carry on drinking but we weren’t in our own hotel and we weren’t being served. On the way back he accused me of doing my nut over not having my own room because I was planning on meeting with ‘that girl’ off the CI list. I should have decked him. This would later become the focus of his thinly veiled threats after I left.

The festival ended, but the next issue’s deadline was very close to the end of Bristol so it was all hands to the pumps. We all got back on the Sunday night and on Monday morning I was down in Finchley with barely 6 hours sleep under my belt. Loriann*, who had skipped the convention, had stayed back at HQ and made sure the office was traffic managed, but it was still three 18 hour days and a lot of graft.

[* On the Monday, Loriann was uninterested in events at Bristol, I told her about the argument over the room and she said, ‘you know what a lying scheming bastard he is’. But on the Tuesday she was full of the fact that Sara from the CI forum was there and wanted to know if the real reason I’d wanted my own room was so that I could ‘get it on’ with her? Now, cast your minds back to my recollection of the final days of when Kerry was there. The two of us started to have a conversation and before we could continue she stopped me and was acting like we were in a bugged room. She looked at me and what she said made me shiver, “he’s done it before, he’ll do it again” and she checked to make sure that the special phone Dez had next to his desk hadn’t been switched over to the taping mode. I thought she was being unbelievably paranoid and told her this. She said, “He eavesdrops into conversations. He’s taped conversations we’ve had before – to see if you’re loyal to him!” I was gobsmacked and didn’t believe her, she shrugged and went back to complaining about everything and Dez again. When Loriann started to be more than just a bit interested in my extra marital possibilities, my mind swung back to what Kerry had said a few years earlier and I made a conscious effort to check the phones. This was weird and I didn’t like it. The paranoia in that office was never far from off the scale.]

Then the insult was added to the injury. The issue went to print and neither Mike nor I had received our cheques. Dez said we’d have to wait a couple of days because of Bristol cash flow problems, and we were happy with this, if not a little worried. When the cheques finally arrived they were light. Three half-pages of mine had been cut (£225) and three full pages of Mike’s news had been cut (£250). Dropping my wages down to below £500 and Mike’s to just over. Dez blamed the sudden cutback, he axed 8 pages to reduce the print cost, on emergencies and the fact Bristol had cost more money than he expected. This I couldn’t understand, he only paid for two rooms, he didn’t pay Mike or me for the weekend and we paid for our own food. But what was worse was he made the cuts and didn’t tell us – didn’t forewarn us that we’d be short. Yeah, maybe he didn’t have to, but he had two grown men working for him, almost full time and our money was just having the piss taken out of it! Then when the two of us did our usual monthly job of sitting down to go through the issue I noticed that Jim, who as an equal rights freelancer should ordinarily have had a cut in his work as well, actually had his page counts increased.

Let’s get this straight; Jim didn’t lose any money that month, but I’m going to be really anal to prove it. Jim produced Advance Listings, which reproduces information from the monthly comics catalogues. There’s 12 catalogues a year, 12 lots of listings required. CI was published every 4 weeks; therefore it comes out 13 times a year. One month every year whoever does Advance Listings (it was usually me, or Bruce) had a short month. It was a given for over 10 years – no one argued the point because Dez didn’t allow arguments over money. Dez had been immovable on this and neither Bruce nor I ever got offered extra pages elsewhere to boost our £250 shortfall that month (and, get this, it usually happened around Christmas!) I actually came up with the idea, a year earlier, to help Bruce out that we split the listings in half between the 12thand 13th issues; it meant that instead of one month with £250 less in your wages, you’d get one month with £125 less and one with £125 more. Bruce was happy and Jim seemed more than okay with the set up. After all, Dez always made a point of saying that’s how it would be in real publishing. Mind you he could have told us that all female staff in publishing had to go to work naked once a month, none of us had ever had any proper experience to disprove him.

So, Jim should and did have only half the listings that month, but his Toy News column had been increased from one half a page to one and half pages, plus he’d been given a news story to write up, without Mike’s knowledge as (faux) news editor, so he ended up not actually losing a penny but making about £25 more than he should have. I was stunned. I liked Jim but this was just plain unfair.

“But he would have hardly earned anything this month, at least this way it’s fair to all of you,” was Dez’s argument, but it fell down badly. Jim had another job working for a web designer; he probably earned more than Mike and I already. “I don’t know why you’re being like this?” Dez asked and he sounded genuinely pissed off with me.

“Dez, my money is £475. Mike’s isn’t much more; we have mortgages, families and bills to pay. Both of us have lost some of our other freelance work. Jim has another job. You have disproportionately given him extra while taking it away from your two longest serving employees. That simply isn’t fair. You have to understand this!” Dez then accused me of being a mercenary, he wasn’t budging and neither was I. It was a point of principle and one Dez obviously couldn’t see. I repeated my argument in another way, still he refused to budge from his position of me being mercenary and that Jim was ‘my mate’; didn’t I care about his welfare? Not when he was already earning money, no. The argument escalated and threats were issued. We were basically at a Mexican standoff and finally one of us cracked. “I can’t employ you any longer if you have an attitude like that.”

“You won’t get rid of me that easily, matey,” was my reply. “If you try to get rid of me I’m taking you down as well.” And that was it – the end of my career at CI, over someone I’d introduced to the magazine, who Dez felt he was being fair to.

Amazingly, for a man who loves to accuse me of rewriting the past, he soon changed my ‘threat’ into a more generic one; apparently I’d said I was ‘going to take the magazine down’. Utter bollocks and I mean complete and utter bollocks. The magazine was the only thing that kept me going. I loved the magazine, it was far more important than working for some second-rate, pathetic comicbook villain. He has used this apparent threat by me as the stick to continually beat me with and it just isn’t true. There is enough documented evidence to suggest that I was arguably more loyal to the magazine than the owner!

Mike tried to sort the problem out and so did Loriann, but Dez wasn’t moving an inch. I’d given him the opportunity of trimming his costs – the decision was made and he wasn’t going back on it. I didn’t get any money for the stuff I supplied for the upcoming issue; he claimed, quite laughably, that I now owed him for what I would have earned, because of what I didn’t produce and leaving him in the lurch. Go figure? I suppose in a way his Jammy Bastard factor kicked in because he really didn’t want to have to sack one of us - imagine how his image would suffer if people heard he'd made a bad decision?

But if one of us jumped ship then it was problem solved.

Next up: with hindsight

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