Wednesday, 21 December 2011

My Monthly Curse (Part Forty-Four)

Once Warren Ellis and me had been good friends (in comics ‘good friends’ is about the same as ‘very good’ in grading terms), we weren’t going to be best pals, but we talked a lot on the phone, communicated via email and drank with each other on the few occasions he ventured to a public event. I’d never really met a true opportunist, or at least one had never used me until I met Warren.

His comics career was rising and he saw Comics International as a useful way of helping that career along. He became a very valuable source of rumour and news and in return he got coverage and favourable reviews – not that he didn’t deserve favourable reviews; he was a talented new writer. But the day after he signed a contract with one of the big two was the day Warren stopped phoning. Our conversations became few and far between, if I rang him he could never talk for long and eventually we just didn’t have anything to do with each other. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pissed off or bitter about this, but I didn’t really do much, if anything, to damage my relationship with Warren, but I seemed to be the target of a lot of hostility from him. When we launched the magazine he was highly sceptical of it, but finally accepted it was quite a novel product. During the Waid debate he stayed relatively quiet and I can’t deny he sat on the fence for most of it, but when Dan Black began the ‘Save Borderline’ campaign he came crashing down on the side against us.

When you have a dream you hold onto it for as long as you can. You’ll go to extremes to try and secure its future. I’ll be totally honest; I had no real qualms about asking people for money. Forget the argument that was being put across that ‘no one asked us to do the magazine so why should we ask them to give us money to keep it going?’ People all over the world were downloading it; it had become an important thing and deserved its place in comics hall of fame. We might not have deserved anything, because we were stupid enough to do it for so long for no money, but the magazine deserved it and eventually, through our begging campaign, we only made enough money to ensure the magazine survived and I think that was a fair outcome.

I still don’t really know what the gist of Warren’s problem was – he’d made enormous amounts of money from the industry, probably more than enough to keep Borderline going for a year without him even knowing it, but the fact we asked for money in such a public way suggests to me that he found it distasteful, so he condemned us in public for it and turned a lot of his acolytes against us. Like I said I should have left it alone, but instead I went for the demigod’s throat. I made a nasty attack on him and I shouldn’t have.

It was quite amazing the amount of sycophants that will crawl out of the woodwork on the Internet, especially when they can twist the knife or defend the objects of their desires. Borderline might have been an arrogant entity – we did indeed love ourselves – but most of the wankers who sided with Ellis, downloaded it and many continued to download it despite this row.

We lost a couple of our contributors, both of them going to Comics International to do similar columns – and, of course, get paid. It was around this time that Dez Skinn made his most obvious attack on Borderline. Cashing in on the ‘slag Borderline off’ campaign that had started after we asked for money, he ran a comment piece (incidentally from someone who had never contributed anything to the magazine before and whose e-mail address bounced, several times) that really did a hatchet job on Borderline and me. The thing was I no longer received his magazine, I had been taken off the complimentary copies list (no surprises there) and I had no interest in paying for it, especially if it meant I had to go to the local comics shop to get it. So I was completely ignorant of the fact he’d done this. So when my emails downloaded one morning and a letter to the CI discussion list (which, incidentally was still being run by me, despite umpteen efforts by Dez to either have me removed from it or its name changed) appeared I was quite taken aback by it:

After seeing Dez Skinn with his beautiful new daughter in last month's Comics International I really was happy for him, I genuinely wish them both well for the future. At the same time I would like to think that he has forgotten his past differences with those old friends who are currently working so hard to make a success of Borderline - especially after our moderator's recent willingness to extend an olive branch following the Bristol Comics Festival.

Unfortunately it's hard to maintain that hope after seeing the 'Comment' section in the current (September) CI, where Andrew Hamilton of Motherwell launches a sustained attack on "undeserving charity cases" like Borderline which "end up having to plead for donations"; he complains that "these comics websites seem to think they deserve to be supported so they don't have to lose money", then asks "Why do they deserve it more than any of a hundred fanzines or small press titles which always seem to run at a loss?"

Quite apart from dismissing Borderline as some kind of fanzine, Hamilton then becomes quite abusive in referring to [the editor] himself: "Britain's Borderline, the self-proclaimed "best thing to happen to comics for a long time" is the most arrogant though. After its editor says you must have been hibernating if you haven't heard of him, he boastfully talks about Rebellion having sponsored his next issue, and having over 40,000 readers. But because he's "lost" over £3,000 in a deal with Cool Beans (not a bad fee for a single issue that he'd have done for free anyway) he now expects others to send him money so he won't have to get a job."

Now admittedly this piece is prefixed by the usual editorial disclaimer that "the following opinions do not necessarily reflect those of this publication", but one can't help but wish that some effort could have been made to deal with the more obvious factual inaccuracies contained in it. Nevertheless there's a part of me that still wants to believe this was simply printed in order to promote a bit of healthy controversy - and in the long run it might even help to clarify what Borderline is all about if Dez features an opposing view next month (and I can't believe that he won't receive one after this). I guess that leaves the ball in his court for now...

After all, in the immortal words of Nick Lowe, "What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"

Now, I need to clarify something; nearly 18 months had passed since parting with CI and while it caused Dez and me both a lot of grief and money, he had, during my time with him actually, become my friend and I had liked him. For a few years we really were almost equal and very much mates. My life had changed quite considerably in that time and I offered an olive branch. It was flatly ignored, but being the clever little politician I can be I did it publicly, winning myself some humility points and helping ease my bad reputation – gained of course with the guidance of Dez.

I really did well; I went three whole days without rising to email. The guy who had posted it was genuine and was very much on the side of Borderline and he was defending me rigorously and I appreciated that, but I was also pissed off. I had had enough of Skinn’s covert schemes and his nasty little moments where he couldn’t care less how much debris he left to achieve his goal of besmirching my name, so I replied to it, knowing that he would see it.

My Borderline editorial team reside on here. Some of my friends reside on here. Most everyone knows the gesture I made [to Dez] was genuine. You've only got to lose someone you care about or have a terrible row with someone that you genuinely like, for you to realise that sometimes life really is too short. But you see, this isn't about that any more. In Dez's eyes I'm seriously out of order for even thinking that I could contemplate taking him to an industrial tribunal, let alone actually doing it. The fact it never happened annoys him further and the fact that it also cost him £6K further fuels his passions.

I got an email from a mate the other day about the latest Borderline, he's not on here but to show it's genuine it was from ####### ####, who Jay and Selina and a few others know and will be in the [Borderline] letters page next issue: "I'm glad to see your commentary at the beginning of this issue is a lot more upbeat. I'm sorry to say that the last issues opening shot was a hard one to read, you sure sounded on a downer mate. I hope things have picked up a lot for you and Borderline and keep you eager for more. The quality has never dropped though, Borderline is a quality product."

It is depressing when you get all kinds of accusations thrown at you, even if there is a smidgeon of truth in some of them. I did indeed gloat about him losing £6K at my expense - had he met his legal obligation he would have saved himself £5K. But some of the crap he's been levelling at me hasn't been nice... BUT, do you know what? I've stopped caring; life is equally too short the other way around. Dez is being an arsehole - the fact he's being an arsehole in front of about 7,500 people is absolutely freaking hilarious. Regardless of how much money he makes from it and how little he pays the people who actually do all the hard work, he has a pittance of the audience that Borderline has. Currently our *average* download figures are up to 83,000 a month - that's because we're getting to be more and more ***INTERNATIONAL***.

Every single time we do something on Poland we get someone from the Czech Republic saying "can you do something on us" and then someone from Spain, someone from Chile, Andorra, Luxembourg... damn, would you guys like to see a list of the countries that download Borderline? Then you can compare it to the number of alleged countries CI claims to be distributed to. Heck, my audience is over 10 times his audience, I'm not surprised I figure people have heard of me and therefore I'm actually not surprised that some of them voted for me in the [NCA] Lifetime Achievement Award – after all, not only am I partially responsible for Borderline, but I actually produced Comics International virtually single-handedly for about 7 years and you only have to look at it now to see that obviously it's now being designed by the teacher who’s lost touch he's now stealing ideas from his former pupil...

I possess the *Quality* product now and that also goads him something shocking.

I really don't want to have a feud with CI. CI was something from my past and I've moved on. Dez doesn't want to move on because I'm a threat to his happy existence now - he wants to crush me because he feels I betrayed him and he wants to crush me because he doesn't like the fact that month in month out I'm actually producing a better product than he is and yet he's constantly telling people how crap I am. Why do you think that is?

I'm actually getting happy that he's constantly having a go at us in print. It's telling the few people who don't download Borderline, who do read CI, that they perhaps should see what all the fuss is about! I don't mention CI in Borderline, because I don't particularly want him to boost his sales because of me. So, I ignore him - it infuriates him and he knee jerks worse, but in the long run people will realise that he's the only person doing it publicly...

BTW This Hamilton guy is probably a pseudonym - CI has suffered from a lack of genuinely worthy letters for years, no one writes any more, so we solved the problem by writing our own letters - I can give you a list of pseudonyms he, me, Bruce Paley, Mike Conroy, even Loriann and Kerry used, to pad out the letters - it's a cheap page you see (he doesn't pay Mike Kazybrid or Paul Saether for the Comic Cuts strip).

When I was younger and getting hassled by a bully or some one like that, my mum always said to me, "Ignore them, they'll go away". It works on 99% of all known creatures, but it doesn't work on Dez. He's such a control freak that he actually hates being ignored to the point where he'll up the ante to attempt to stay in someone's thoughts (this diatribe alone is probably giving him an erection). He took me off the comps list to see if I continued to buy or find out the little digs about me he put in. I haven't been buying it and I've not really paid a lot of attention to any of the discussions that emerged. So, I haven't been writing editorials that criticise him or his magazine in any way and that will infuriate him - remember I've known this guy for over 25 years, I know him really well, probably better than anyone else apart from Mike Conroy - I also know what makes him tick. Even Mike, who is a good and honest defender of Dez, will testify that Dez likes his own PR - he's arguably the most recognisable comics editor since Stan Lee to emerge - maybe the only one in this country, but he believes he’s still famous enough in the US for him to pull his weight.

I heard nothing about this at all; in fact Borderline disappeared off of CI’s radar faster than a speeding bullet. I suppose it was fortunate because he would have crowed relentlessly about the events to come.

I suppose I should also make the point of explaining what the olive branch was. I publicly tried to end the feud with Dez; I cut through all the shit and said, 'hey, we should be friends and work together - there is no need for this acrimony,' it fell on hostile ears...

Somehow Borderline continued, we celebrated our first year publishing and moved effortlessly into our second year with a following of around 65,000 per month and there was no visible drop in the quality of the magazine either. I had by now taken work in a different world altogether, so there was money coming in for me at least, therefore Borderline just hummed along like a sweet engine. 2002 turned into 2003 and we continued to feature a great mix of mainstream US and UK comics and a greater focus on stuff from all over the world. It wasn't making us money, but it was no longer bankrupting me.

Next time: all good things...


  1. Funnily enough (tho not actually funny) I hadn't heard of Borderline until I read about it in CI. Cross promotion!

  2. The 'controversy' over Borderline asking for cash seems almost quaint in these days of Kickstarter and suchlike. The writer Alex Decampi has just funded an entire graphic novel – called 'Ashes' – from donations and she's the tip of the iceberg. I wonder how many of those who denigrated Borderline's tactics back then think Kickstarter's a great idea and have even contributed to projects through it?

  3. Andy, the reason why we got so much stick for Borderline was because it was me, and you and a whole bunch of people that others felt weren't qualified or equipped to do it. I was this no mark assistant to Dez and a bunch of people off of a Yahoogroup. It had no right to be as good as it did and this caused a lot of rancour amongst the Comics Forum people. the WEF, Delphi forums in general and anywhere that anyone who thought of themselves as hi-brow comics fans. Yet, none of these came up with the idea first and I don't think any of them have come up with an idea since. It was all jealousy, ignorance and probably their dislike of me!
    Have a great Xmas old buddy :)

  4. Hi Phil
    I've been reading your posts since they started and as I had started reading CI with issue 2 (bought in a corner shop!) it's been great to read about how it was behind the scenes. We were no doubt at the same comic marts in the early days and being of a similar age, I can also recall how things have changed in the world of comics. Ironically, CI was the one that introdcued me to Borderline as well! I'm glad it did as it was refreshing to read something that didn't kiss the Dollar's arse all the time.
    Thanks for the blog, it's been great and a merry Xmas etc

  5. Yes, you're probably right. There were some lovely people on the WEF but there were also some spectacular arseholes. Hope you have a great Christmas, too, Phill.

  6. Is there still a Warren Ellis forum where people call him "the master storyteller" and "Internet Jesus"? If so I suppose its members deserve pity more than contempt.

  7. My good friend Kelvin Green once had the audacity to write a review of an Ellis comic that didn't meet with the strict high standards of the man himself of his followers. I think K should tell you all about it :)

  8. Ha! I'm not sure I'd get all the details in the right order nowadays!