Of course it wasn’t always shit working for Dez, even some of the horror stories of working for him were counterbalanced by some rare good times, some funny experiences and what Dez would sometimes refer to as ‘jolly japes and wheezes’ - a lot of the following anecdotes are neither jolly japes or wheezes...
I remember standing outside the Royal National Hotel, home of the UKCAC events and regular comic marts with a bunch of people regarded as the Rat Pack of British comics. There was Dez, Mike Conroy, me and a few others such as Mike Lake (former head of Titan Distributors), Peter Hogan (writer for DC), Rob Barrow (one of those guys that has been on the scene since it was started, and in 2011 was convicted of having over a million images of child porn on his computer), a couple of other people making the numbers up and Justin Ebbs (the long time comics and peripherals dealer and friend of the stars). We were smoking and having a beer out the front of one of the bars when one of Justin’s biggest competitors walked past. The guy wasn’t particularly well liked and Dez had christened this particular dealer ‘The King of the Trim’ a year earlier when evidence surfaced that this particular dealer was trimming damaged edges off of old comics to improve the condition to the naked eye. Everyone said ‘hi’ and this guy moved on, but Dez, by this time already considerably more than one over the eight, decides to make it public that ‘The King of the Trim’ is this guy’s new name and he ought to be exposed as a fraud. He said this loud enough for the guy to hear. The following day this King of the Trim took a series of adverts out in the magazine and I learned that Dez had approached him with an apology and an offer of a year’s worth of advertising at a reduced rate. This was totally against Dez’s supposed ethos of never selling advertising or making deals with people. But it did mean that sometimes he could remember his drunken mistakes, very well.
Considering he claimed for years that he never did deals, deals were just about all he ever did at times. If he wasn’t selling the inside back cover of the magazine for 4 ounces of skunk weed every month, he was taking hot speculator stock from bad debtors, or doing some strategic advert placement that would possibly hinder sales of one dealer against another dealer. He always lied about the magazine’s circulation – remember how I told you that retailers never price comics down – the same applies to comics publishers, once CI reached 25,000 sales it just about stayed there. Officially it dropped to 24K a couple of years after the boom died and then when I left he was telling people that there were at least 21,000 regular buyers – this was actually closer to 7,000 actual buyers and he was hoping that each copy would be read by at least 3 people – and this was the ludicrous sales pitch he offered – 21,000 people read CI! I am truly amazed that advertisers believed this nonsense, especially as more and more shops were sending back mastheads for unsold copies – one retailer asked for his order to be reduced from 100 to 20 and Dez refused, offering him a sale or return deal. When the dealer refused, Dez stopped all copies and the shop keeper had to order CI from a third party. But even if he was trebling his actual sales figures, the reality was that CI was a hugely popular fanzine and nothing else. To be fair, many of the catalogue advertisers cleaned up at times, but this was aided by a deal in which Dez would charge the advertisers an extra few hundred quid for extra stand-alone catalogues, with them unaware that the cost of the run-ons worked out at about 2p each (unless there was colour involved) and that meant an extra 1000 copies would cost him £20. He would often make up testimonials and run them in the magazine, and often he’d make up letters praising the diversity of advertisers and how the adverts were never obtrusive to the excellent articles. It was all a bit obvious and embarrassing at times.
Excellent articles? Rubbish – to the untrained observer CI looked like a… modern comics magazine, but in reality it was anachronistic, it belonged more in the 1970s than it did in the 21stCentury. It had columns, news and a few features dotted around, but one thing it never really had was excellent articles – they had no place in this magazine, CI was lowest common denominator stuff. There were no aesthetics about CI’s design or its layouts, it was a perfunctory magazine that looked like a throwback to a bygone age and failed to deliver anything more than news about an industry that knew it already. I was responsible for it starting to look like a magazine, even if it was just a fanzine with a big heart! Over the years, it was all down to me to make the magazine look slicker and more professional. It was me that persuaded Dez to change from producing CI in the MS-DOS Word Perfect 5.1 to using Adobe PageMaker (Word Perfect was a very versatile DOS program that was designed for anything but magazine publishing!). This changeover from DOS to Windows took over a year to achieve and eventually highlighted one of those common attributes of Dez’s – taking the credit for someone else’s ideas.
I’d been using PageMaker for a couple of months, having picked up a pirate copy from one of my computer geek friends. Back in the days when I used a MAC to produce Mutant Media, I discovered the joys of Quark Express, as there was no PC version, I used PageMaker because it worked in a similar, less powerful, way. I was forever bringing in redesigned layouts and ideas and eventually Dez relented and began to produce the cover and news pages with PageMaker – all using my redesigns but with hardly noticeable ‘tweaks’ done by Dez to effectively wrestle design copyright from my hands if I wanted to make an issue of it – not that I ever did. As more and more of the magazine began to be produced with a DTP package rather than anything else the whole feel of the magazine seemed to be dragged into the 20th Century. But did I get the credit? Whenever anyone ever mentioned the improvements in the magazine, Dez was always quick to take the credit – he was, after all, the master adapter, he could learn and turn his hand to anything, even computers! The truth was the first 5 issues of CI were virtually produced using typewriters, glue, photocopiers and Letraset, a truly archaic way of magazine production – the kind he was used to. So my arrival at CI at least helped it develop, even if I never got the credit that I deserved.
Being the second-class citizen in the office never really bothered me. What did actually always get up my nose was the fact that despite my editorial status inside the pages of the magazine, it was never regarded inside the office. This was mostly reflected in mail that was addressed to me. I never saw it, or if I did it was always after it was opened and rifled through. Now, it isn’t like I got a lot of mail, but as ‘News Editor’ I received a lot of stuff from publishers, including freebies. These were not my freebies, they were the magazine’s; therefore they were Dez’s. Apparently I received a parcel every month from Fantagraphics Books – a publisher Dez wasn’t that fond of – and every month he sold these comics and books via his mail order off-shoot and I didn’t know about it until Kerry told me during her final days at the magazine.
But that wasn’t all. I occasionally received letters from comics mates, who didn’t know my home address, so wrote to my c/o the CI offices. Some of these turned up nearly two years after they arrived when I was searching through boxes of comics he wanted to sell. I actually confronted him about him hiding or reading my mail – this when unaware that every single comic and freebie that came my way had either found its way into his collection or his sales list – and his reaction was to shrug and pout and say that if it comes to his house it’s his post. I didn’t know at the time that what he was doing was highly illegal. But then again, since when has being legal stopped Dez from what he wants? Of course, I can’t prove this, so it isn’t an allegation, just an observation...
His only other offer of a reason was that he still sometimes used my name for official communications – without my knowledge.
I got a rather unwanted public reputation from working with Dez, I got christened the ‘CI Pit Bull’ – a reputation I probably gained because of Dez’s propensity for using my name on offensive communications he had with people. He could basically be as nasty and offensive as he wanted to be because he used me as a shield. The irony was I am actually as bad as my reputation paints me, except I got the reputation through no fault of my own. I can be and have been a truly obnoxious and dislikeable person, mainly on the Internet, but especially behind the screen of email. I lack respect towards people in the comics industry, and have made most of my comics acquaintances and friends by rebuilding bridges I burned before they were built. But, in person, I tend to be a pussycat and that’s how I end up becoming friends with a lot of the people who probably thought I was a pompous, aloof arsehole. In contrast Dez has the ability to be both charming and menacing at the same time and I’ve had to get between him and a number of people to prevent an actual fight. The worst time was at the aforementioned Royal National – there was a big comics mart on and one of the dealers there was an American who had taken out two months of consecutive full page adverts a few months before and was now saying he wasn’t paying for them because he got no response from them (why do the Americans think rules are there to be changed for them?) The discussion about the £300 began to get heated, with the American claiming, wrongly, that Dez had made him a deal and was now reneging on it. This was untrue; I had been present when the adverts were bought. Eventually the American took on the look of a man on the verge of doing something stupid. I’ve seen the look a lot in my life; it’s like the eyes smile and the rage takes over. He said to Dez if he wanted the money he would have to take it, so Dez flew at him. I mean was going over the table to have the Yank, I instinctively grabbed Dez by the shoulders and the first words out of my mouth were, “Not here, not now!” quietly but very firmly and Dez’s overriding sense of ego preservation kicked in and he pulled away. I got Dez out of the room and returned to the American a little later, he was grateful that I’d stepped in, he was visible shaken – both men were. Fortunately for me this dealer was situated next to a good friend and advertiser with CI, who had known Dez for long enough to ignore this rash outburst. I explained, with the help of the other advertiser, that he owed Dez money and asked that if he had been in the US and the same thing had happened would he use the same argument? The guy had calmed down and gave me £200 of the £300 there and then and told me to tell Dez that was all he was getting. Dez was happy with the outcome.
But Comics International – 11 years of hard graft, abuse, bullying and forever believing I had a future as a journalist – was over and done with. One friend lost and another a few months away from being lost as well. I was gutted, but I was also relieved. The nagging pain in my neck that had grown and grown over the years disappeared overnight. I’m not joking, it really did! It was like a huge weight had been lifted from me, but I was still hugely annoyed – that bastard wasn’t going to get away with it this time. I was going to do something that would make me a folk hero among the professional community. I was going to be the man who ruined Dez Skinn.
Dez had little or no friends in the professional community, mainly because he got a terrible reputation for not paying his employees during the last year of Warrior. He actually made preferred payments – he not only told me this, I saw many of the invoices – he would only pay those he wanted to and the others he’d plead poverty and blame the lawsuit from Marvel he had been fighting. By the time Dez returned to comics, most pros had heard Alan Moore (and a few others from the Warrior camp) tell of the horror stories about Dez – apparently he was just as much of an arsehole with these soon-to-be famous creators as he was with me! I can understand why Alan Moore doesn’t like editors – editors are normally failed writers and want to use the writer to express their stories rather than the writers – this is a generalisation because there are really good editors who don’t interfere, but on the whole I’d say I’m pretty accurate. As CI became more important to the UK comics scene more creators talked to Dez, but many of them were Americans, who were in awe of the man who gave them Warrior. Many of the Brits were reluctant to approach Dez, which left me in an excellent position to further my contacts.
To the fans however he was a saviour – if it wasn’t for him there wouldn’t have been a huge and dramatic change in the status quo between the US and UK creators. If nothing else he was probably solely responsible for the absorption of the British scene, as it suddenly became the new US scene. But the fans only think of him well – he’s received fan letters from people calling him ‘a man of the people’ and ‘responsible for comics being huge in this country’ (something of a misnomer as these kind of comics have never been that huge in this country) and ‘a thoroughly decent and approachable man who has time for the fan’ – I think he wrote the last one himself because Dez loathed comics fans. He talked to them because he had to, but he really wouldn’t have pissed on them if they were on fire...
Next: a biography