Monday, 28 November 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Forty)

We refined the layouts, edited all the copy and edited it again, we treated Borderline #1 as though it was really going to be a printed magazine and read by 100,000 people. The level of professionalism I made as standard for Borderline was far greater than anything ever seen in a comics magazine. Not only did I want the best content I wanted to show Dez that CI was a badly produced anachronism and he and it had lost touch with its readers. I also wanted to show him what I was capable of doing without him.

People who were against Borderline were few and far between. There were the people who just didn’t like me, there were those opposed to the PDF format, but there were also those who didn’t like what I was doing. Many of them believed that I was only doing Borderline to get one over on Dez and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, but it wasn’t the overriding reason, the real reason I wanted to do it was because I knew I could create something better than Dez and something far more important, something that people wanted to read because it was the best. I knew I was capable of doing that, it was the one thing I had left in me and I wanted to prove it myself as much as any one person. Dez was in my past and that’s where I wanted him to stay. The problem was if you’re going to launch a comics magazine you have to be aware that he runs the only other one in the UK and by default he runs British comics.

At this time something very covert was taking place. Mike Conroy, had heard from his US publishing friend that he wasn’t interested after all in our own version of CI, so had aligned himself with Borderline. He couldn’t deny that the buzz around the industry was strong and even though I’d assembled a team of virtually unknown editorial staff, he and most of the people who had worked for Dez in the past had been unknown themselves once. The team I had consisted of former comics writers, comics historians, mainstream press journalists and editors and dedicated fans with the same energy I had when I started with Dez. I saw it as the perfect mix. Conroy saw it as one of potential, but also a threat and that bothered him, he needed to keep his feet in both camps so to ensure he had options at a later date. One of the reasons it bothered him was because Borderline was bothering Dez. I’d stolen his thunder, not that editing a comics magazine makes you the forefront of comics news that often, but I was now the most visible comics magazine editor in the business and I was going around making lots of big promises and, more importantly, keeping them.

Mike saw Borderline as something he could influence me with, he believed he could steer me into his directions and I believe that right up until our friendship finished he thought he was ‘almost there’ with it and me. What happened was that Borderline was more than just a success it was huge. So huge in fact, at the launch party – three days after the launch – we had been downloaded by more people than we expected would download it in the entire month! John Parkinson informed us of something none of us expected – we had been downloaded by a total of 51 different countries in three days – we were truly international, not just in name, like some. We had also been downloaded 65,000 times – the demand was so great it crashed our servers constantly throughout the first three days!

Now it’s important to understand a few things. Comics International had a circulation, at its highest, of about 24,000. That is pretty damned impressive given the audience they had in the UK. That was roughly one in four of every comics reader who picked up CI. In the USA, Wizard was the best selling thing to do with comics and at its peak it was shifting over 300,000+ per month. What Borderline achieved has to be quantified – we were free, but it still cost people to download us, either through charges from their ISP or Internet CafĂ© costs. But these were hidden costs and people never really notice hidden costs. At the Borderline launch party, in my back garden in Northampton, we announced to those attending we’d been downloaded by 65,000 unique Internet addresses in three days – that was 40,000 more than we expected to download in the entire month.

Between Dan Black and me, we bulk mailed as many places as we could, told as many people as we knew to pass the info on and we got the comics companies talking about us to their professionals and we were getting inundated with interview and features pieces from all quarters. We were new, we were fresh and we were attracting the attention of the masses and not just the masses in the USA and UK, but all over the world. By the time we launched we were everywhere and we began to offer deals to other magazines and websites, affiliate with Borderline and we’ll help each other. Many signed up, others refused because they were frightened of losing their own support or simply just didn’t like the way we’d bludgeoned our way into the consciousness of the world.

We had no real time to rest on our laurels, we had another issue to get out and then another, we had a target and that target was by March 2002 we should have attracted enough sponsorship and advertising to be relatively self-sufficient and be able to pay the contributors something. By the time I was putting #2 to bed we knew that over 100,000 readers all over the world had downloaded #1. Our flurry of press releases telling the world of our success was greeted either by more people arriving to see what all the fuss was about or people claiming that we were reading our results wrongly and we probably hadn’t been downloaded by 1000 people – we offered these people access to our log files, but they either refused or never got back to us. Some people just can’t accept success, especially if it’s someone else’s success.

One of the unbelievers was of course the eponymous Dez Skinn. It got back to me through the people we shared as friends that he believed I was massaging our circulation figures and that we were basically lying through our teeth – how ironic is that? He was busy on the phone telling his advertisers that they shouldn’t believe anything I told them because we had split acrimoniously and I was doing everything in my power to ruin CI. I took this badly at first, but then it was pointed out to me that he was obviously very frightened of Borderline. It wasn’t a magazine thrown together by some ambitious fanboy, it was a magazine put together by someone he’d taught everything he knew and that meant he really needed to up his own game, especially in the light that people were commenting on the drops in standard in CI since my departure.

It was a fantastic couple of weeks for me. But, I’m a natural born pessimist and I knew that it would all come crashing down around my ears.

I received plaudits from all over the comics world and I made damn sure that everyone knew that it wasn’t me, it was the team of quality editorial staff I’d assembled that had made it so good. Mike Conroy called me several times during the month, mainly to report on comments made by Dez. I had a smug grin on my face, Skinn was worried, because if he wasn’t he would have ignored us. Mike didn’t seem convinced of our numbers despite showing him the evidence, which he couldn’t argue with (unless of course there was some way of manipulating the figures and I wasn’t aware of how to do that and frankly John Parkinson isn’t the kind of man who would have manipulated figures for my sake), but Mike soon seemed to come around, especially as Dez was growing more and more unstable towards him. There we were thinking that if one of us wasn’t at CI any more it would have eased the problems for the other, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Just by being on the planet, I was annoying Dez and he was taking it out on Mike. The fact that I was producing a comics magazine that was receiving major praise from everywhere in the industry was like someone sticking a red hot spindle up his butt. No one ever talked about Comics International in the same way they talked about Borderline.

By the time issue #2 came out we were synonymous with quality comics coverage. The reaction was phenomenal again and we were well on our way to achieving at least 70% of the first issue’s download figures. The magazine had changed again slightly, I had tinkered with the design and layout slightly and it looked very slick indeed. We were thinking that if we could keep this up we would be cashing in before long, we needed something that embedded us into the subconscious of the comics reading people – or as we liked to call them ‘the Americans’, because they had the money to throw around and because we were lazy, we didn’t know how to approach the European publishers and no one seemed prepared to find out – there is, after all, only certain things a person will do for free before it becomes a chore.

I was sitting in my office working out different approaches I could use to coax money from potential advertisers when the phone rang. I went downstairs and picked it up, ignoring the scenes on the TV that looked like a poor special effect from a cheap TV movie. It was my late brother-in-law on the phone, “Are you watching this?” He asked, but by then the full horror of what I spotted on the television was unfolding in front of me. I’ve lived in a world where my escapism had always been world-shattering events and planets inhabited by so many super freaks where devastation was a daily thing. I’ve read comics where entire planets have been wiped out, where cities have been devastated, but the cities that were destroyed were only fictional ones. My other world was one where Superman would have raced and not only stopped the plane from crashing into the building but would have saved all of the lives and wrapped the terrorists up in a street lamp and dumped them on the door of the local FBI. On September 11th, 2001 there was no Superman.

My life in comics had always been centred on New York City, because as a fan of US comicbooks New York was the place where it all happens. I have friends who work there; colleagues and personal friends made from comics and all, if it wasn’t for New York City, I probably wouldn’t even have had a career in comics (even if it was in tatters like the plaza around the Twin Towers).

The news broke here around 3pm UK time, it felt like reality and the unreality of comics had suddenly merged. I stood and stared at the TV until my wife came home and I was still shocked beyond belief by the time I went to bed that night. The next few days badly hit the magazine’s hit rate, but that didn’t concern me. Then on the Monday after the event I got a call from Mike Conroy asking me if I wanted to be involved in some form of tribute book? I asked him to explain his idea to me in more detail and he said that the comics industry had had a massive outpouring of grief since 9/11 and there were a number of tribute books scheduled where all the funds raised would go to the widows of those that died trying to save lives. At the time the only comics magazine that could do something at short notice was Comics International (because of its frequency and short lead time) and allegedly Dez’s reaction to Mike’s suggestion of acting like a conduit for the people who wanted to know what was happening was: What the bloody hell for? The Americans probably had it coming to them! So the only alternative was to try and get Borderline to do it and of course Borderline was capable of reaching so many more people than CI. We were about to gold seal our reputation.

While the rest of the team were busy on Borderline #3, me, Mikes Conroy, Kidson and Sivier put together a special edition of Borderline called The Manhattan Projects. It gave room to comments as well as news and showcased artwork that would feature in the tribute books coming out from various companies. It was small so it could be e-mailed to people’s in-boxes and conservative estimates reckon we were seen by nearly half a million people. I was asked why Mike Conroy was involved in this Borderline special, but instead of telling them the truth I said it was because there was animosity between Dez and me, I was doing it because Borderline could get to more people quicker. Dez took a real umbrage to this remark and the next four months became a time of dirty tricks...

Next: The halcyon days of Borderline.

Monday, 21 November 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Thirty-Nine)

I talked to many people while I was at Bristol in 2001 and more and more of them were convincing me that comics in the UK was at its strongest for years and there was enough burgeoning talent out there for something big to happen.

All people could talk about was how we were on the verge of something big and there was no one there to promote it, to cover it or to show the rest of the world (not just the USA) that it was emerging from its slumbers and the old dinosaurs no longer ruled the planet. I remember talking to Mike Conroy about it that evening and receiving the same looks from him, as I would have from Dez. But I stopped him in his tracks – “What if we produced our own Comics International? What if we, the two people who actually matter, went to a US publisher and said, ‘we can give you this, we’re two of the most respected journalists in the industry with both the fans and the pros on our sides and we can give you something more than what is there at the moment’. Have you ever thought about that, Mike? We would actually get the money we work for and the credit.” He looked at me like he’d been having the same idea. Incredibly he thought it was a good idea and he knew someone who might just like the idea – an American publisher. I left Mike to sort out the publishing side of the venture and I spent the next day talking to some of the people I thought would be valuable assets. These people included old friends and colleagues like Martin Shipp and Peter Ashton, as well as artists like Marc Laming and Paul Rainey. Before long word was going round that something was happening, something that could be big for the future of comics in this country. No one knew what it was, because I hadn’t told them yet. I had learned that the best way to get people’s interests was not to tell them everything, just tease them with a possible concept and that always worked well with comics fans, because of their desire to know things before they happen. By the time Bristol ended I had a list of people who I felt would be invaluable to the creation of the perfect comics magazine.

The problem was Conroy didn’t like any of the people I suggested, although he didn’t really have a problem with Peter Ashton, he couldn’t understand what the guy brought to the table. I explained to Mike that Peter’s knowledge of small press and independent comics and his growing knowledge of the European market made him a valuable consultant. Mike couldn’t understand why I wanted to entertain anything other than superhero comics. I decided that my idea and Mike’s idea weren’t the same. Mike wanted to do Comics International but without Dez, I wanted to do the most all-encompassing thorough exploration of the comics medium in magazine form there had ever been done. There were other comics magazines out there as well as CI, these included the multi-hundred thousand selling Wizard and the supposed doyen of alternative comics coverage The Comics Journal, which over the years had grown a reputation for being impenetrable reading and focusing on only areas of US comics that no one had ever heard of. I wanted to take the ground between the two and offer enough coverage to keep everyone happy.

As Mike continued to press his connections, we were fast approaching D-Day for me at CI.

The day after I was fired (or left) I sat in front of the computer and realised for the first time in nearly 10 years I had nothing to do. I was unemployed. So instead of looking for a job or doing something completely different I opened up my desktop publishing package and started to create the ultimate comics magazine.

The period between June 11th and August 1st 2001 was quite an extraordinary period. The wife, having worked for the tax office for a number of years, sat down with my accountant and the two of them came back to me and said that there was a good case to believe that I was technically employed by Dez and I could sue for constructive dismissal. I scoffed at the idea, but after a series of phone calls to ACAS and the TUC’s help-line, I decided that perhaps I had a case after all. I had spent years being paid by Dez and over the last few years I had been giving him invoices with breakdowns for how much I earned. Dez, as I said previously, was not responsible for anything – we didn’t work for him, we worked for ourselves (if that was the case, why did I have a company car in Quality Communications name? I still have the documents as proof). Yet he had a certain degree of control over anyone who freelanced for him. The certain degree was about 99.5% of control and you only had the .5%, if it suited him. I consulted my lawyer and he nodded to me that I had a case. So it set proceedings against Dez for wrongful dismissal at the end of June. He laughed it off, but soon realised that perhaps he had laughed too soon. Suddenly he was taking it very seriously and had put his own solicitor in place. The world became a very legal place and I was only fuelled by the belief of others.

Fortunately I had good advisors, one of which worked in an Industrial Tribunal office. More and more information was coming to light, as I detailed the areas in my statements that I believed Dez could not oppose, he instead fought back with emails, testimonies and a signed statement from Mike, which he had coerced from him by threatening him with his job. I remember Mike phoning me up in tears apologising because he had to do it.

Then the fates transpired against me. I had appealed for the case to be heard in Bedford, which was local to me and not too far from Dez. But it was refused. I appealed again and subsequently the hearing date was adjourned. I then received a phone call from Dez’s solicitor, I didn’t and still don’t know if this was a proper procedure, but she started demanding information from me, which I grew very defensive about. But she also informed me of the fact that my second appeal had been rejected, something I wasn’t aware of, and it would be held in London inside the week. I then phoned the Industrial Tribunals offices in London that were dealing with the case and discovered that two important pieces of information that I should have received had not been sent to me. This information basically had me stumped and I realised that I needed a lawyer because I didn’t understand what was being asked of me.

I got no joy from the woman I spoke to, so I asked to speak to her superior. I explained that not only did I still require an additional adjournment – the new hearing was going to be in five days – I could not afford to pay for my travelling expenses, I also now needed time to be able to find out exactly what was being asked of me and the time to get myself some legal counsel. I was refused and told my only recourse now was to write to the Chairman of the Tribunals, with the reasons for the adjournment and he would decide. I faxed furiously through the night, sending him the reasons why I wanted an adjournment, the reason why I simply could not afford to travel (regardless of the fact they reimbursed your costs eventually, I had no one I could ask to lend me a couple of hundred pounds to cover my expenses). I could drive to Bedford, I couldn’t drive to London, pay for parking or park up and travel in by tube, and it was impractical and unfair, especially as the hearing was to start at 9.00am. I was the poor sap with the grievance and they were going all out to cater for the bastard in this scenario.

The Chairman refused it again. I received another abrupt and threatening call from Dez’s solicitor and the walls came crumbling down. He knew he stood a very good chance of losing and if he lost it would have resulted in the end of CI; he would have made sure that the livelihoods of all his ‘employees’ would be blamed squarely at me. I was woefully unprepared despite all of his worries, it was already costing me more money than I anticipated and with the fact that I had missed out on a number of important communications – copies of which arrived the day before the hearing, I realised that I stood a very good chance of being torn apart on the witness stand and that I didn’t have the confidence to stand up and make my arguments clear. I really do believe that if I had gotten the one little thing I asked for (Dez was allowed an adjournment it should be noted), an extra couple of weeks to get a solicitor involved – I had stupidly believed I could defend myself and make it cheaper – I could have screwed him to the floor and got what I deserved. But I didn’t, so at 4.30 on the Thursday, the day before the hearing I phoned up the supervisor at the Tribunal and told her I was going to pull out. I had no option, the Tribunals were pushing me into doing something that I was unprepared for and, to be fair, the woman on the other end of the phone, probably hearing the distress in my voice, assured me that her staff would help me as much as they could to understand and deal with the things I had no knowledge of. It was no good; I just didn’t have any fight left in me. I said, “I had this man ritually humiliate me for 11 years, I’m not going to give him the chance to do it again publicly because you people are at fault.” The Jammy Bastard had won again, this time by default, but I suppose I got the last laugh, it cost him well over £6,000 in legal fees, in the end.

However, that £6,000 wasn’t the last of it. I suddenly heard from the Tribunals stating that Dez had appealed for me to pay all of his costs and if the Tribunal ruled in his favour, there was nothing to stop Dez from suing my arse off in court. Suddenly I was fighting for my life. After writing to the Member of Parliament who dealt with things such as Industrial Tribunals, I detailed all of my case out to them, why I didn’t think I should be made responsible for Dez’s costs, I also said that if they did rule against me I would sue them for their negligence in the case. The Tribunals rejected Dez’s bid for compensation.

The following day Dez’s solicitor phoned me again and told me that Dez was considering a proper legal move against me for damages, so would I be prepared to meet him halfway? I laughed at her and said, “He can take me to court and he can win, but at the end of it he will get nothing, and you can tell him that from me! You can also tell him that if he does I will make this whole sorry mess public knowledge.” There was never a case against me.

While all of this was going on, the first dummy of the ‘project’ as it became known circulated between a close-knit group of 10 individuals.

The ‘project’ was coming along nicely and thanks to a good friend of mine, called Rad Kerrigan, we had a name for it – Borderline.

The dummy we produced started to find its way over the Atlantic and we started to hear good noises from pros and publishers. In fact, the feedback we were getting was excellent. But as far as anyone knew at this point, apart from a few select people, we weren’t actually looking at a magazine – a physical paper and print booklet. What we were distributing to people was a 500K Adobe Acrobat PDF (portable data format) file, with a print ready magazine inside. The idea had been touched on before, by a group who produced a zine called Savant, but all they did was repackage the contents of their website into PDF format. We were going to produce a comics magazine that originated all of its material, had something for everyone, covered everything from the current hot US comics to the obscurest comics of Outer Mongolia. We were going to be the world’s first educationally entertaining magazine dedicated to the medium of world comics.

We were ambitious.

We were electronic!

What made Borderline different was that it was going to be FREE. It would eventually survive from advertising alone. It would be the first of its kind, a magazine that promoted the industry that the industry had to pay for, allowing the fan to read it and use it for nothing. It would be able to do this because it would look, read and be so different from any other comics magazine. It would be able to give more coverage than a conventional magazine and it would automatically link (if read on screen) to websites that would expand on the story further. Borderline was a multi-purpose, multi-levelled, fully interactive magazine: you could print it out, read it downloaded on screen or on-line like a website – the potential reader base was immense; little did I know how immense.

By the time we were getting ready to launch, the magazine had gone through a number of changes, the most significant being it changed its shape from a conventional A4 magazine to a widescreen, the shape of your monitor, which meant we could fit more on screen but the design ethic would remain intact; this was the idea of Mike Kidson. We had lost a couple of the founders, but gained a few new people who added new dimensions to our approach. At the time of launch the team consisted of me, Mike Kidson and Peter Ashton as assistant editors, Jay Eales and Mike Sivier as news editors, Andrew Winter was reviews editor, Martin Shipp was features editor and John Parkinson was our webmaster and controller of all things Internet. We also had a guy called Dan Black doing our PR. Dan Black, or Dan the moderator from the Comics International forum was really a guy called Mark Emerson, ironically a regular at the comic shop that Dez once owned. He had joined the CI Forum initially to start an argument with Dez Skinn because he never received a competition prize he had won – weird that – but ended up liking the group so much he stayed, but never told anyone that he was really someone else entirely. So Dan Black was created and Dan Black became a real person – a growing influence on the comics scene via the Internet. So real in fact was Dan Black that when Mark revealed this to everyone on the Borderline team we still ended up calling him Dan for months after.

We were the people who will probably go down in history as folk heroes and mugs in equal proportions. Borderline was free, we knew that we had to do it that way for at least six months solidly before we could start to expect any of the publishers to advertise, but we were confident of our product and I was confident that because of my history and respect in the industry I would get more than enough advertising. If Plan A by some fluke didn’t work, then Plan B would be to charge a nominal fee for the magazine. Plan B was never really considered viable by any of us. There was no Plan C.

We announced to the world what we were doing – releasing a top quality comics magazine, in PDF format to the rest of the world. A magazine you could print it or read it on-line, it would feature interviews with some of the top people in comics and features about comics from all over the world. It would teach people about the origins of their hobby, have sections that would appeal to all genres and sub-genres, it would have cutting edge reviews, and space to show the fans as much or as little of something as they want to see. But above all, it would be free!

We didn’t get laughed out of the place like we expected, and we didn’t receive as much negativity as we expected and nothing seemed to be stopping us from launching. Something had to go wrong, but it didn’t; at least not straight away...

Next: The Borderline experience!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Thirty-Eight)

We’ve talked about fanzines and touched on conventions, but there is another area of the industry that is probably more overlooked than undergrounds – the small press.

As a sweeping generalisation people who are attached to the small press tend to out nerd the geekiest of comics fans, yet by the nature of what it is, people involved in small press tend to be really creative people. Back in the days of the fanzine and the adzine there was also the stripzine and these were jammed packed with comics strips that ranged in quality from outstanding to offal.

The small press is, I believe, the true underground. Underground Comix – a label attached to comics that essentially dealt with subjects that standard comics couldn’t or didn’t cover is really one of the most lucrative parts of the comics industry. Underground Comix are the one form of the medium that most people who sneer at comics will accept and read. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy’s Cat being two underground comix that most people on the street would be familiar with, but also the works of Robert Crumb might be well known to most. By their nature, undergrounds make money because they only print when the demand is high enough and that is usually pretty high – most Freak Brothers comics were getting one printing a year, at least and that specific comic is arguably the biggest selling comicbook title of all time – although there is a belief that the Robert Crumb created Zap! Comix is actually the best selling (having been reprinted hundreds of times) – I’d contest that. The fabulous pothead brothers were consistently one of the biggest selling comic in my shop; I was reordering copies as often as I was ordering new Marvel and DC comics.

Undergrounds dealt with drugs, graphic sex and nudity, politics and corruption, swearing and violence, horror and filth that could never make it into Marvel or DC’s territory. They were regarded as subversive, have championed illegalities and have been reviled by governments and those that wish to censor us from the things they believe are bad for us. But in reality the Underground Comix movement is one of the most stable, but that’s probably because it is such a big market catered by a select few individuals, who are probably aware their comix will have a far longer life than mainstream comics.

You don’t just have ordinary comics and Underground Comix, there are areas or sub-genres that you sometimes need to be an expert to follow. Warren was a publisher of adult comics during the 1960s and 1970s, among their titles were Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella, these were a sort of modern version of the classic EC horror comics of the 1950s, the comics that prompted Wertham to write his Seduction of the Innocent, which, to recap, essentially meant that comics from the mid-1950s onwards were homogenised and had to follow the same code of ethics as film and television.

Warren’s titles, because they were magazines and targeted at the higher levels of the spinner racks, weren’t bothered by any Comics Code of Authority (of which one had been set up by then to police the industry) and made a niche for themselves, which others often copied. Underground Comix emerged as a protest against censorship and by the early 1970s there were many comics, produced by people who either made names for themselves in undergrounds or who moved there from the mainstream to spread their wings and air their political views. The comics infrastructure looked something like this: DC and Marvel at the top, Charlton, Archie, Gold Key, Dell as the smaller publishers trying to battle it out for the 10% that Marvel and DC hadn’t already consumed, and then you had undergrounds. It was a simple diamond-shape, but with the arrival of the Direct Market it suddenly became possible for anyone to publish his or her own comic, in fact it made it a damned sight easier.

By the time I opened my store there had been a major swing in publishing, by the time I closed there had been an even bigger swing. What happened was in the late 1970s was we started to see the first of a series of self-published comics books, or graphic novels. Some were done by comics creators, others were done by comix ‘dudes’ and one in particular was done by a living legend that most young collectors were unaware of. The guy’s name is Will Eisner and he had created The Spirit in the 1940s – a different kind of superhero. Eisner’s book of collected short illustrated novellas A Contract With God was one of the groundbreaking moments in comics history. Not only was this book handled through bookshops and was a best seller outside of comics; it gave others the idea that comics could appeal to a wider audience again. A Contract with God had elements in it that were banned by the Comics Code of Authority, and even though Eisner was one of the most respected creators who had ever lived; it wasn’t going to change its rule for him. So Eisner got a real publisher to handle it. Suddenly other publishers were looking at fantasy imprints for their wares and there were other graphic novels with adult themes, but definitely not underground themes, that started to appear. Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy’s Sabre about a black bounty hunter, who liked shagging. Detectives Inc: A Remembrance of Threatening Green by Don McGregor and Marshal Rogers was your typical buddy cop drama, but had some weird sex and lesbianism thrown in for good measure and suddenly your dad was interested in your comics.

The real breakthrough happened with Richard Corben’s Neverwhere a graphically explicit picture novel that belonged in the underground but was published by the real world simply because it was so unique. The boundaries between all the genres of this medium were beginning to blur.

By the mid-1980s DC Comics had realised that it could make money from comics that dealt with ‘mature’ subjects or had more graphic detail than the standard comic. Alan Moore was one of their key players in the introduction of, at first a ‘For Mature readers’ line and then the Vertigo imprint, which was for any title that didn’t really fit into DC’s regular portfolio. Others followed (Marvel had tried the Warren route in the 1970s, but was never quite as successful as the company hoped. Marvel’s Epic line, which followed, was very poor in comparison and seemed to be a bit of a con – many of the stories could easily have been published as standard comics, but weren’t. Marvel, it seemed, didn’t get the hang of mature readers books) and before long there were about 15 small independent comics companies not only vying for that small percentage that wasn’t covered by Marvel and DC, but actually fancying their chances of eating away at the big two’s monopoly. By the early 1990s Marvel held the monopoly with almost 45% of the market share; DC followed with 28%, Image Comics had a further 16%, Dark Horse Comics had 4% and the other 7% was being fought over by a lot of companies with potential – some of them are still around now, 20 years after these figures were released.

Image Comics? Image was set up as a direct result of Marvel being stupid. During all the huge orders for the X-books and Spider-Man and just about anything else Marvel pumped at the unsuspecting general public, with sales rising and with no obvious reason, some joker at Marvel must have decided that the resurgence of these characters popularity must be down solely to these hot new dynamic artists Marvel had recruited. So Marvel proceeded to make their young talents superstars. Artists like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen and Whilce Portacio, who all witnessed the titles they were working on take dramatic increases in sales, suddenly found themselves being trumpeted as bigger than the heroes they were working on. Marvel began a campaign, which lasted for about twelve months that basically canonised any artist who helped increase the sales on their books. Suddenly the hot artist, (who once maybe could have helped the back issue sales of a beleaguered comics dealer) was now the main weapon for Marvel in increasing new comics sales. The company even started to manufacture hot artists, hailing the arrival of the latest greatest comics talent, but essentially swelling the egos of a bunch of inexperienced children. With Marvel swimming in profit and their hot artists now millionaires because of the deals they worked out for themselves – because they were so popular – there no longer seemed an awful lot of point in them continuing to slog out monthly comics for Marvel. So the six most prominent artists and their mate who understood publishing (and was also a modestly successful comics creator – Jim Valentino) set up their own comics publishers. It was an instant hit and virtually all of the launches from the breakaway contributors had orders of over 1million copies. The rich kids just got a bit richer. Marvel replaced the hot artists with a new bunch of hot artists (all being hyped up like their predecessors) and the cycle would get repeated.

Image immediately grabbed about 10% of the market and there was now a big new player in town. Image wasn’t just good wholesome fun, they were superhero comics produced the way Lee, Silvestri and McFarlane saw them without the constraints of editors and publishers. [By the way, this had almost happened before, a few years earlier and led by a lot of Brits, but no one had enough guts to do it and it led to Alan Moore quitting comics for a few years because he felt there was no future for the medium in the USA as long as DC and Marvel were in control of it. No surprises then that Moore eventually did work for Image].

Unfortunately many of their titles were just regurgitated facsimiles of stories originally done by Marvel and DC. Most of these guys could draw, but none of them could really write, and instead of getting quality writers in (who might have their own ideas), they all employed their mates to write the scripts and very few of those mates are still working in comics.

Image is still going today with its mix of diversity and the few remaining launch titles it has still going. However they are no longer the force they were and have a considerably smaller market share, but enough to keep them going. A lot of the breakaway creators have returned to Marvel and DC; most notably Jim Lee who took his Wildstorm imprint to DC and now holds a publishing deal with the company and is one of its highest paid executives.

I think that during the 1980s and ’90s a lot happened to split comics into specific categories and split the fans into partisan crowds. If a publisher couldn’t get comics readers to read its comics, then they could fuck off and worry about their pointless corner of the industry on their own. While Marvel, DC and Image were looking at USA domination, smaller companies were investing in more diverse material – they were targeting the people that Marvel and DC couldn’t help and had no intention of thinking about helping. More and more publishers set themselves up producing comics that quite frankly couldn’t be categorised. Companies such as Fantagraphics began producing comics that many believed were underground comix, but they were in fact comics produced by a new generation of creators who were now using comics in the same way as TV and film creators were pushing the envelope. Comics became a sort of new video! More and more solo publishers appeared; guys or girls with great talent and ideas but no faith in the system, who just costed out their projects and went it alone. It started to become clearer, because of the number of shops displaying this different stuff, there was a market for it.

People wanted their spandex and their buxom superheroines, but others wanted something different. They wanted to read autobiographical comics, or comics about modern life. People could relate to it and still get enjoyment from it in a variety of ways. The diversity of these diverse comics continued to grow and kept encroaching on traditional underground comix territory. Companies started bringing out sex comics – stories containing such graphic illustrations that in some cases you could use them as anatomy books. The truth was you could just about do anything you wanted in comics form – it was and always should have been a freeform medium and now it was becoming that.

Of course things like the sex comic* did nothing for the already risible comics reputation.

[* This has always seemed to me to be one of the most pointless elements of the medium – the sex comic, or essentially porn on comic form! Very few of these unbelievably graphic comics ever had a story, they were the paper equivalent of the plumber turning up at the half naked housewife’s door offering to look at her plumbing – and without the ‘oo-er, missus’ thrown in! It gave the buyers’ the opportunity to learn how to read a comic with one hand. Fantagraphics were the big purveyors of porn with their Eros Comix line and Eric Reynolds, one of the publisher’s long-lasting employees admitted to me once that Fantagraphics could not have succeeded without the extra income from the sex comics. The reason I find sex comics pointless is because they do nothing for the medium and frankly you can see the real thing on the Internet or off the top shelf for not much more (and in some cases a lot less) money. I would also actively encourage young comics fans to shed the nerd image and get out there and do some shagging! Although I remember reading an article written by some guy many years ago who claims that his sex comics probably get more of an airing than his average Spider-Man comic – I’m strangely impressed by the guy’s frankness. The awful truth about sex comics is most fanboys of superheroes would love to see the most buxom and shapely of superheroines in the buff – that’s why Marvel had such a hit with its Swimsuit Specials, despite no nudity ever appearing; I mean, comics fans are mildly intelligent people, do they really need some kind of wanking aid in the form of female heroes in lingerie poses? Surely they can imagine it, write about it or draw it for cheaper?]

More and more new publishers were appearing and producing what could be described only as marginal titles. But thanks to the Direct Market, if they achieved realistic enough orders then people could start to actually eke out a living. So here we had a weird situation, the Direct Market was created to sustain the industry, but eventually only aided in its shrinking; it’s diluting, if you will. It was now responsible for a new wave of talent and a host of projects the likes of had never been seen on these shores.

Publishing was splintering and thanks to cheaper printing techniques and lots of disposable income, anyone who had half an idea started to produce their own comics. Now, this is not something unique, people have been producing their own comics for years, but never have they been able to do it and present the end product in such a professional manner. The days of photocopiers, stencils and banding machines were long gone.

But for all the independent publishers starting up – from the almost half-serious comics companies to the one-man-bands – there was still something else – the place where most people who want to work in comics hail from – the comics small press.

Anything goes in the small press. As its name suggests small press isn’t big, it encapsulates the creative drive of individuals and their need to see their work in print in any form. The small press is the purest form of the comicbook, it can be anything the creator wishes it to be, it is not governed by others’ ideas or influences, most small press is produced because of the love for the medium rather than any short-term gain. Most people involved in the small press would probably not pass up the chance to work in the mainstream, but that isn’t the real purpose why they are there.

I know of small press comics produced by art students, but I know as many comics that were produced by milkmen, postmen, accountants and radio producers. I also know that while I had been a champion of this corner of the industry for well over 10 years, I really don’t know that much about it. But that is probably because I’ve never really been a part of it. Just because I produced a fanzine doesn’t automatically mean that in the eyes of small press people I’m accepted. The small press views the press with suspicion, mainly because they can’t understand why the press would be interested in them, especially when we had so many colourful superheroes to talk about. The small press is also quite cliquey to the point where you almost have tribes of small press creators. There are also different degrees of involvement and commitment – some people are involved as part of their social circles, while others live, breath and sleep small press and will campaign tirelessly for it to be recognised by the rest of the world, which seems a bit odd really as the small press is as accepted in comics as nursery school is for schoolchildren – although people involved in the small press do not necessarily want to be labelled in the same category as spandex fans. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve never been able to get as passionate about small press as small press aficionados; because I don’t understand the need to try and be equal with the rest of the industry – it isn’t an industry that one would want to be associated with, especially when many of the people involved in areas of the small press look at Europe as our destiny. Of course, as I’ve continually mentioned, Europe has a completely different perspective on any comics related products. Plus there’s the fact that I’m waffling nonsensically about this when the real reason for people to be involved in the small press is because that’s what they want. There doesn’t have to be a reason for it and the person who produces an amateur looking piece of shit doesn’t necessarily want to work in professional comics at all; he or she might just want to express themselves in a medium they can associate with.

The term small press has been around for years, possibly even decades, according to Pete Ashton, “Means literally a small publishing operation usually run by one person or a small group. [It’s] Worth noting that in the States [companies like] Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly are [classed as] Small Press while what we call small press is known as mini-comics or zines.” Ashton also told me about how the small press tends to form into cliques and these groups of people would eventually overlap into other groups and start getting affiliated with each other. There were magazines that were just like professional comics magazines that told people about the diversity of product available from a plethora of wannabe comics people or just people with a desire to create their own stories. Contacts were made in other countries and the small press underground network grew as far afield as the Soviet States and South America.

Like its big brother, the small press has different facets, but not the same ones. In the small press world small is key and therefore everything is far more informal and personal. As a result you form ‘tribes’ of people who align themselves to a specific form of small press comic and will not go anywhere else. The attitude is almost snobby if they didn’t realise that they were just doing the same thing as spandex junkies do to any other comic reader who doesn’t read what he reads. There is a lot of passion in the small press and those passions boil over at times. In the early 1990s, in an attempt to try and put the small press scene under one roof, a fanzine that would be like the fanzines of old and give room for all divergent opinions was created. The fanzine was called Battleground; it was created by a guy called Andy Brewer and it ended up being just what it said on the tin – a Battleground.

Friendships were lost, arguments and feuds were started or resurrected, but as Pete Ashton put it, “a lot of cross pollination had happened” for all the finished relationships others grew and good things came out of it. The setting up of the first small press distribution companies were a great help (and when I say ‘companies’ I mean small outfits that hardly made any money at all, but tried to get anything that was produced a possible home and a sale.) and now there were working networks for the small press, which meant that comics shops could easily order and stock anything they wanted or felt they could sell. You see people who read small press comics need to be able to know where they can get them. These small press distributors were small beans, but also the main feeder, and they did more to promote comics as a medium than the mainstream comics companies. There is a reason for this and it is simple – small press creators are actually creating something and people are impressed by people who create things and the small press isn’t about spandex and superheroes – it can be and often is, but – it’s about doing your own thing and that has an anarchistic quality and that is rarely derided and more often than not regarded as innovative.

I’m talking about the small press that is evident in the UK more than in the US. To me small press is the one-man band, it is the sole trader selling his own wares, and it is the cheap quality reproduction as long as you can see clearly what is going on. It’s about existing rather than quality thresholds.

The small press, like any other genre, has its peaks as well as its troughs. It was having a peak in 2001 and I was there to witness it. I soon forgot about my hassles with Dez as the real buzz going around Bristol swept over me. It was really hard to put my finger on it, but for the first time in years I felt excited to be part of the comics industry in this country again. It might have been because of the amount of people trying to break into the small press, something that is essentially easily broken into. But these people wanted to do their own comics, their own thing, it no longer seemed to be top of people’s agendas to get portfolios seen by the big boys; it was about doing something; being seen and heard; about degrees of recognition.

It was out of the small press that I got the inspiration for a new comics magazine.

Next: The birth of Borderline.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Thirty-Seven)

iv) adventures in comics journalism, part two.

Once upon a time comics started with #1 and continued on from there. With the collectors boom under way in the 1990s some bright spark had the idea not only of creating #0s, but also #½s. This was yet another gimmick that sometimes paid dividends to the comics industry. Even Comics International did an #0 to celebrate its 100th issue it went back to its old style of newsprint covers and brought a supplement out that didn’t do much but show how little the magazine had advanced.

I still smile when I think of the argument that was one of the main reasons for Dez and me almost parting company in 1998, the fact he believed that I was going to do my own magazine and try to go up against him. The fact that he believed I was starting this magazine with a guy called Martin Shipp, who will play a major part in the rest of this story, is doubly ironic for reasons that will become very clear. The reality was that it wasn’t the case – the dummy for Comics Correspondent had never been the prototype for a competitor that had almost happened a couple of years earlier…

At the same time as I was working on my proposed Comics International supplement, I was also working with a young Northampton designer called Mark Loughlin. Mark had no interests in comics but liked the medium and the designs one could come up with. The two of us spent hours talking about a really clean and professional comics magazine that looked at the industry through the same lens as a camera magazine, so to speak. Slick graphics and cutting edge stories in a computer-magazine styled presentation. Heroes was conceived and we had a publisher interested in it almost immediately. Comics were very much still big business and the outside world was not ignorant to the fact and the Bath-based publisher Future Publishing approached me after I’d dropped a few hints in the direction of a friend who freelanced for them. Mark and I took the proposal down and three days later I received a call from the publisher inviting me back down on my own.

The publisher liked the idea, he liked my approach, but he didn’t like Mark’s designs and besides, the in-house team would handle that. All that we needed to do was get approval from the board of directors and a new comics magazine was about to be born. Even the costings looked favourable and I was busy composing my farewell speech to Dez; then it just didn’t happen. The board felt it was far too marginal an idea to work and they wanted to wait 12 months to see what happened to the market. I was so close to being the editor of a newsstand magazine that would rival anything Dez had ever done and I was foiled again. The publisher who was interested in using the idea for Future soon left and I never heard another word. The irony isn’t lost on me, especially with events that would happen in 2003.

So that failed attempt at getting Heroes published was really my #0. I’d had a hand in no end of fanzines, many of which I’ve talked about, and I was the creator of one of the most singular successful fanzine issues of all time, selling over 1000 copies of the first issue of my Mutant Media fanzine in 1991, but that was the closest I had gotten to emulating my peers and becoming something independently.

I need to have a brief aside. Mutant Media needs to be mentioned mainly because it has been referenced previously and because it was groundbreaking and achieved something no other fanzine had ever managed. While I was still working as a freelancer for Dez and my comic shop was falling apart around my ears, I had this idea of cashing in on the popularity of The X-Men and its numerous franchise titles. It was also something that was Dez’s idea and not mine! It was pretty clear that the mutant comics were massive – Marvel’s X line would have been the 3rdlargest US comics publisher had they been independently published – so starting a fanzine devoted exclusively to the X books seemed like a no-brainer. Dez suggested that I could produce my own magazine and use CI as the place to boost sales – or in other words, if it was successful, I could advertise.

We discussed a number of approaches, but in the end I decided that I had to come up with the design of the magazine; I had to prove that I was able to produce something of a high quality. I approached a friend of mine called Rob Ryan, who ran The Real Artwork Company, a commercial art and design studio providing artwork for advertisers, magazines and anyone who needed it. Rob was using Macs, which at the time pissed all over the abilities of PCs and he was more than happy to allow me access to his computers – after hours – provided he could help me produce the thing, which would help him understand more about DTPing and open new avenues of revenue potential.

Mutant Media looked the dog’s bollocks. It was an A5 black and white zine with probably a far more professional feel than CI could manage – it was produced in Quark Express for starters and even though it came out 20 years ago, I can still remember just how easy it was, even by today’s standards. I assembled a team of X-fans to contribute and we set about producing content to complement the design. The fanzine got a lot of exposure in CI and I took out two quarter page adverts in the magazine that really blew people away – they were the most futuristic adverts the magazine had ever seen, with eye-catching graphics that we constantly failed to emulate even 10 years later using PCs. The intention was to DTP it and I felt that 200 copies would be an achievable level and one that the Real Artwork Company would do for me if I gave them the money. Then the orders came in at the rate of 50 to 75 a day! We hadn’t even got a finished issue and we had initial orders of 700, by the time I realised that I needed to go to a printer rather than DTP it, I had 940 orders. I went to a local printer and we knocked out 1000 issues, which ate substantially into the profit I was expecting to make. Within a week of it coming out, we were DTPing a second printing, with a slightly different cover – to differentiate it from the first printing – and a problem. The problem was we had been overwhelmed by our own success, and I say we because no one – Rob, Dez, my contributors, no one had seen the potential. I had expected to produce 6 of these fanzines a year, make £50 to £100 from each of them and give myself a financial boost at a time when I was haemorrhaging cash like water through a sieve.

The success of the fanzine was also the main reason I got introduced to Bob Harras, the then editor-in-chief of Marvel and the man responsible for the X-Men comics. He not only liked my fanzine, he used it and eventually me as a stick to beat his writers with. Bob liked me so much, he used to ring me up and we’d chew the fat about all things X. The fact that Mutant Media had been a success was partly the reason, but as I became more entrenched at CI, Bob saw me as a legitimate way of cajoling his staff and getting the best out of them. But we’ll come back to that. Mutant Media #2 sold over 500 copies, which normally would have been something remarkable, but was a huge anti-climax and made me feel as though I was doing something wrong, despite the 2nd issue being considerably better than the first. The third issue was the last, because by this time I was working at CI full time and Dez used the conflict of interests excuse, but I would find out later that for all of his complaints and concerns about my writing and editing ability; he’d realised what I was actually really good for – design and layout. Mutant Media looked much better than CI, so therefore he could use this ability I had to a far greater degree than my slipshod writing acumen.

When I started at CI, I used to do a lot of reviews. The reason was simple; I wrote reviews to fill the pages out. If we had x number of reviews and they didn’t fit the x number of pages, Dez and I were drafted in by Sarah to pad them out. I would write X-book reviews and while Dez hated my reviewing style – it didn’t fit into his house style – Sarah loved them; claiming that I was one of the few reviewers on the magazine who could inject real humour into the encapsulated reviews policy the magazine ran. When the massive changes on the X-Men took place – the ones we dealt with much earlier in this book – the new writers, employed by Bob Harras, had a lot to live up to, especially in the eyes of the Brit guy who wrote a fanzine about X-books and was now working for a respected trade paper. Bob started to use my reviews at monthly editorial meetings; reading them out to the two new writers – Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell. His reasons were simple; this English guy knew almost as much about the X-Men as former writer Chris Claremont and if the new guys could impress me then they would have cracked it.

Of course, I wasn’t impressed in the slightest by these young whipper snappers.

Nicieza was an old hand at Marvel by this time; a former editor who had opted to go the gamekeeper turned poacher route and write rather than edit. He couldn’t give a shit about what Phil Hall thought. Scott Lobdell, on the other hand, had little comics experience behind him; he was a failed comedian who arguably got his position at Marvel through nepotism rather than any obvious talent. Scott was massively intimidated by me; so bothered he even considered quitting Uncanny X-Men because he could not win me over. Every month Bob Harras would gleefully read my scathing reviews and Scott would slink off back to his apartment and stress about how this fucking unknown Brit could have so much influence over his boss.

One day, while visiting his father, Scott said he was quitting. His dad asked why. “Because that bastard in England hates me and Bob uses him as a stick to beat me with every month!” His father, a wise old fellow, turned to his son and told him to stop being a girl.

“What you have to do is win this guy over; you need to write your book for him and eventually he’ll see just how good you are.” So Scott went off and started to write good X-Men comics and eventually my reviews, which had scored 2s and 3 started to score 5s and 6s and eventually 8s and 9s. It was at this point that Scott contacted me and we’ve been friends ever since.

Mutant Media gave me the opportunity to do the conceptual stuff, but it would be another 10 years, at least, before I could look at a magazine that was mine to do it again. I never did find a benign benefactor of my own to give me the funds to produce a comics magazine that would be revered all over the world, or even enough money to produce one that impressed the US comics arena.

So I did one for nothing…

I don’t think it was unrealistic of me to want to be the editor of a successful comics magazine, I’d been the understudy for so long, I think I deserved my chance. I didn’t think it would happen so fast. The Comics Correspondent idea had resurfaced the weekend I threatened to put Dez into the River Avon and had he not been such an arse he might have managed to steal my thunder from me on this as well. Despite me walking around Bristol like I didn’t want to be there, I had noticed that a lot of the people there were young, up and coming writers and artists and there was a vibe going round not dissimilar to the feelings that were circulating prior to the British explosion in the 1970s with magazines like 2000AD. It was strong and people believed that there was again a future for British comicbooks. So before we venture into the land where I become one of the most prominent figures in World Comics, let’s look at the rest of the paths that led there.

Next up: more comics theory.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Thirty-Six)

Comics International was an inspired idea – Dez saw Britain longest serving comics magazine – Speakeasy – disappear up its own arse and realised there was a market for a good old fashioned comics news magazine, so using the basic format devised by Richard Burton, when he was producing Comics Media News, Comics International was born. Dez's timing was impeccable.

And that sort of brings us back round to where we kicked this part off. I managed to last at CI a little longer than Sarah, although, as far as I know, she still had shares in the company until the magazine was sold. Dez, through creative accountancy, made it seem that QCL was basically worth bugger all so that he could avoid giving her a huge payoff, yet, allegedly, managed with the same kind of creative accountancy to make CI seem like a good buy when he sold it to Cosmic Publishing. By the time I left, Sarah’s involvement in the magazine was non-existent and the two of them rarely spoke, even on the phone, I do like to think she got something from it in the end.

I hated having a part to play in her demise, because the truth was she was always on my side. She defended me more often than not, she shared her drugs with me and she protected me from the worst of Dez at times. I lost touch with her and I can understand why. She, like Bruce Paley can probably only see me as the monkey who did the organ grinder’s work.

Comics Lesson 18:

What is a trade paperback? It’s another one of those ‘I-don’t-quite-make-grammatical-sense’ expressions that have become loved in comics – like very good and non-distributed. By definition a ‘trade’ ‘paperback’ is a paperback that is made available to the traders only. The comics definition, or the US definition, because that’s where most of the problems start and end, means ‘collection of comics bound in one volume’, so really they should be called Reprint Collection or Collected Stories, but the expression trade paperback has stuck, for better or worse; besides it sounds better than reprint collection, don’t you think? No, neither do I.

A trade hardback is essentially the same thing, but they are scarcer in quantity. A trade hardback is normally released after a trade paperback has been a success! Why? Don’t ask me; we’re talking about a fucked up system run by people who basically are living on the law of diminishing returns and while there are people out there that will buy everything the publishers will continue to perpetuate this practice. Everything, as my mum used to say, ‘is arse upwards’.

What are Graphic Novels? In the British and American sense a Graphic Novel is something that has been commissioned for that format, or has never appeared in any format before it appears in a large prestige format. Graphic novels are not very popular in the US because they tend to be more expensive. Graphic novels are all the rage everywhere else. Some US publishers will produce reprint collections in a grand format and call them Graphic Novels. These companies have signs posted onto the toilets in their buildings which read, “If you can read this you’re facing the wrong way!”

What are Prestige Format comics? A prestige format is a high-coated glossy paper with card or very heavy stock covers with top colour separations and professional finishing. They are mainly originated material, not a reprint and are normally about half the price of a trade paperback – the page content varies from 32 to 64-pages.

The publishers’ favourites of all of these are trade paperbacks, mainly because of the costs involved – reprint royalty deals are few and far between when a creator is on a work for hire contract and all of the source material is already to hand – in many cases the plates are still in existence. Trade paperbacks cost them a fraction in real terms to a single issue of a comicbook.

You’re maybe beginning to see a pattern forming about comicbooks – everything is related and inter-related. You cannot hold a linear conversation about hardly any aspect of comics without having to touch on another aspect of the industry that is linked. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – if you discuss an element of the comics industry you cannot really just talk about one aspect, because other aspects all have parts to play in each other’s success or failure. The industry is inextricably linked together, for better or worse; it is incestuous...

The Internet just exacerbated the problem to a certain degree. The industry had really become smaller than the sum of all of its parts. Dez was a celebrity despite having an oeuvre that was more publishing than creative and despite this he saw the advent of new people in comics journalism as a bad thing. But as much as he despised the new kids on the block, he realised that it was swim or die, so he chose to swim with people he had no time for. It, of course, had its benefits, because there were never enough fawning sycophants for him. He began to build himself the persona of grandfather of UK comics - writing himself into areas of history where he had no right.

I was told once, in 2003, at a Caption Convention [Caption is a small press convention held normally in Oxford which is for small press and not mainstream creators and fans] that during my tenure as News Editor at Comics International, it had been me who stopped Dez from running too much UK small press news, because 'I didn't feel it reached an audience and marginalised an entire page of the magazine'. It was I that instigated the small press news in 1998; I fought tooth and nail for its inclusion and at the time I was having that resurgence of superficial power. Dez will tell you anything to avoid awkward confrontational situations where he's not the main attraction and the small press thing typified this - he didn't like them, but he didn't want them to think he didn't; so he'd break one of his own rules - the one about me being useless and having offered no real contribution to he progress of the magazine - to soften the conversation and make him seem less powerful. I like the way I was attributed with having a say in the magazine when it benefited him.

But, enough of that. The man who is seemingly immune to the affects of karma will get what he deserves, one day.

Next time: the adventure continues, but in new worlds...