Friday, 28 December 2012

More Irrelevance (part 1)

Many years ago, in another century, I wrote a review of a book and kinda felt a little like Salman Rushdie and his fatwah. The review, which appeared in Comics International, was of a novel/linked collection of short stories and it got held over a month because Dez [Skinn] wanted to read the book himself.

The thing was, it was Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire and it had lots of fans and most everyone knew that there was this acrimony between Dez and Alan and my review could easily have been construed as Dez having a dig at Alan via a third party, mainly because I gave it a really bad write-up. Dez felt that his magazine would come in for unnecessary attention and criticism if a negative review of Alan's debut book was published by him with my name attached to it. At the time I probably agreed with him, so the reviewer's name was changed. Dez got halfway through the book and couldn't read any more and it sat in his bathroom between 1996 and 1998 when I believe one of his 'friends' borrowed it. He went with the less than flattering review...

It was at the 1996 Christmas party in Finchley which polarised it for me. Peter Hogan (DC and 2000AD writer) was laying into Sarah Bolesworth (the reviews editor) about this horrendous review; she explained to Peter that it 'was fucking Dez's idea to run a novel review' and for him to take it up with Dez. The aforementioned was already 9 sheets to the wind by this time, so he pushed Peter in my direction and said, 'Talk to Phil, he knows the bloke that reviewed it' and normally I would have been quite straight with whoever was demanding of a situation like this, but Peter was almost apoplectic, arguing the reviewer 'just didn't get it' and 'obviously didn't understand the place Alan was coming from' ... Well, Alan is a bit older than me and I haven't lived in Northampton all my life, but I have been here for 7/10ths of mine and I fancy I know a fair bit of it - unlike the non-existent part of the town that Alan referred to in his recent Observer interview which either was altered to stop loonies from putting impromptu blue plaques up or because he really comes from a very nice part of town and doesn't want people to see his true middle class roots.

There was also this guy in Wellingborough who claimed he was Alan's brother - he ran a pub and the resemblance was there even without the hair and beard - but everyone I've spoken to about this said Alan was an only child...

Anyhow, the point was, that kind of scared me off of writing that many scathing reviews again - it didn't stop me and as an editor and it got me into trouble more often than it didn't; but I figure I've always meant well (um, well maybe not meant well, perhaps being honest and opinionated, but hey everyone has one, an opinion too). This preamble is because I watched something the other day; I was impressed with it as a documentary film; I knew some of the people in it (one I class as a friend), but in its attempt to be post modern about a subject that almost by definition isn't ever going to be post modern in the eyes of Joe Public, I think it did nothing but accentuate many of the stereotypical points I made throughout the book. I watched Morgan Spurlock's Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope and while it was clear that the message was 'the geeks will inherit the earth', the reality is the geeks will NOT inherit the earth. The geeks will inherit some sad lonely bastard's comic/book/toy/action figure/porno collection and maybe their parents' debt.

What this film does is perpetuate a myth, except it isn't a myth, that's just an expression - a stereotype - we keep using, but the reality is despite the mainstream coverage San Diego gets and the fact it is used as a vehicle for Big Entertainment, it is a geekfest, pure and simple and yes people make money out of geeks; it isn't football, but it keeps people in work, makes a few millionaires and even if it metaphorically is killing people, it doesn't normally do it for real (eh, Greg?). What Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope does is say, 'look at these people, take pride in the fact that you aren't them (but wouldn't it be nice if the soldier gets a job)' and by the end you get a pay off even if millionaires aren't involved and my lack of knowledge of the industry now means I have absolutely no idea who offered the soldier some work, but I hope they paid him and that he's not given up his day job.

The thing is Spurlock likes sensational, but he's so obviously a comics fan and the film is produced by a Who's Who of icons and well known geeks, that there was never going to be much more than sugar coating. The two joined at the hip lovers were a perfect example. By the time they'd been on screen for ten minutes and he could not even go to the bathroom without her suspecting he was going off to have fun without her. What he wanted was to get her an engagement ring and propose to her at a Kevin Smith talk; Smith was in on it, the organisers were in on it and obviously Spurlock was. Bunny Boiler Girl was probably clued up by the time he was in the queue to ask Smith a question; she even kind of spoiled his big surprise and all you wanted to do was grab hold of him and scream as loudly in his face as humanly possible - DO NOT MARRY THIS LIMPET MASQUERADING AS AN ASIAN WOMAN, SHE WILL DRIVE YOU TO SERIAL KILLING! Spurlock just upped the schmaltz levels and made it look like a really cool thing, when in reality he was saying 'please do not allow these two people to procreate'. It was probably only the 2nd really subversive thing in the entire film (the first being the two minute skit on how badly the place smells after a couple of days) and it was done so subtly perhaps it was just cynical old me who saw it.

The problem is a film like Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is not going to change the opinion of someone who doesn't understand the kick. The reaction is likely to be derisive rather than of interest. One of the 'famous' talking heads commented about how it took a certain kind of person to look at a comic to become that kind of person - it's what happened to me. Comics is one thing, but this was really a documentary about the SDCC and that meant costume parades, video games, films; about breaking in, making a splash, having your heart broken. The theme was acceptance, the feeling it gave was of a bunch of weirdos in a very hot place for 4 days every year - avoid.

For all the celebrity endorsements in this film, there were actually very few true celebrities on show; Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Seths Rogan & Green, Eli Roth, and Stan Lee, who, of course, is most famous for ... comics. The film and TV guys drafted in all have something of the geek about them (while Whedon and Smith came over as the two most irreverent and erudite, yet in many ways as uber-nerds) and it was their contribution to this celebration of geekiness and nerdism that lifted it.

My wife sat and watched the documentary with me. She did so because 18 years ago, long before SDCC became this mythical near-nirvana for US comics fans, I was there, doing my bit for Britain in a predominantly USA world. I had to explain to her that things haven't just expanded, they have exploded and the irony is that while comics continue to wane, the peripheral ephemera of toys, films, TV and general nerdism has grown exponentially. If SDCC in 1994 was a 7 on the Geek Overkill monitor, 2010's SDCC was an 11.

Yet, I was rooting for Eric Henson - the soldier with the right balance of naivety and talent to either succeed or get royally butt-fucked - and watched Skip Harvey's dreams get pulverised - and yet there was I almost shouting at the TV screen that 'this guy needs to learn from this and go away and do all the things the editors told him to do', but for a while I thought we'd get nothing but self pity from him. He redeemed himself at the end by having a Never Say Die attitude and while he won't ever be a big time comics artist, he should have fun trying - rejection is part of life. Holly Conrad's story was the least interesting because I've never understood the need or desire for cosplay or fancy dress parades - it will never be cool, it will always smell vaguely of 8-year-old's birthday parties. The fact that Holly, presumably on a shoestring budget, is knocking out SFX that were pretty damned good was probably the reason why I didn't end up fast forwarding through her bits and she will be a success in her field even if her story felt like padding.

The rest of the film was taken up with Chuck Rozanski's struggles at being the leading comics retailer in the USA. I've met Chuck a couple of times, he's a nice genuine guy and he is successful. yet, amazingly, he doesn't fit the bill for a successful retailer - he's a fan and as times were hard he was considering selling his Red Raven #1. I said right at the start, he will not sell that book, he doesn't want to and he didn't have to, he took enough money from the weekend to mean that he could stick it back in the vault for another 30 odd years.

The Red Raven #1 Chuck had for sale was almost as new and he was looking for $500,000 for it. As someone who has owned this book and can trace how I lost it with vivid accuracy, I'm glad my mother isn't alive today, because I would have shown her this film repeatedly because I just know that the kids my mother gave this comic to will have destroyed it within 24 hours of getting their shit-encrusted mitts on it. It was maybe only worth about $500 in 1971; when I wrote My Monthly Curse it was probably only worth about $10,000 and my copy would have been vg+ at best... But... You know...

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is the best film I've ever seen about comics and a comicbook convention, but it is also a horror show of serial geekiness that tries to be post modern but only succeeds in looking like it's trying to be post modern but remains the domain of people with deep social needs. It doesn't matter how articulate or passionate someone is about their subject if the rest of the world is going to point at you and laugh or sneer at your supposed childishness.

You need to understand that I tend to think of myself as an anomaly. I have grown to hate comics and everything about them because of my experiences. I have more venom in my blood than anyone attached to comics that I know; yet the many people I know or who have met who have even more disparate and disparaging views on comics and geekery is frightening. I know people who will go to the cinema next summer and watch Pacific Rim and come out sporting massive fanboy-like erections, waxing lyrically about how that film rocked, but if you put, I don't know, Appleseed or Guyver in front of them, they wouldn't wipe their arses with it and would be even less respectful to the people who worship comics such as these. Transformers movies are fine; but the comics or the toys - getoutohere!

Geek Nation exists and it's a growing democracy of diverse and independent nerds, but it will never rid itself of a certain image and there will never be enough members of the Geek Nation to allow it to rise above the derision it gets. The geeks will inherit the earth, but only in their dreams.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

More Pictures from the Comics Days

I found some more pictures ranging from Squonk days to CI days to the trip to Poland with Borderline.
 Lodz (Clint)
 Lodz (Pat)
 Lodz (Martin Shipp)
 CU Pub meet/Birmingham
Bristol Comics Expo - Hypotheticals panel
 A test cover for Borderline
A promo for the magazine

It's That Man Again, Again

Some people have asked me if there are any photos from any of the periods covered. Here is a selection. If anyone else has anything from the era covered in the book, let me know or send them my way.

 Squonk 1991 - it was dark and dingey
 Squonk 1991 - the counter
 Mammary Lass (Luan Jones) 1991
 The counter again 1990 - the summer of that year was one worth remembering for almost 100 degree heat for a couple of weeks in July.
The view from a balcony in San Diego 1994 (the building on the left is where the 2nd CI trip to SDCC went into meltdown)
A scan from Comics International (late 1990s)
Squonk in the news

If I find any more or get sent any I'll post them up!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

It's That Man Again

I've been thinking a lot about comics, recently. That's the addiction, you see. Like nicotine it burrows into your brain, rewires it, sits back and waits for you to make all the wrong moves. I also can't help but see the irony that I have had comics sales on the brain; if a song can earworm, then comics sales have been my brain-worm and the irony is that it is almost 21 years to the day since X-Men #1 came out and any of you who waded through all the minutiae of the first part of My Monthly Curse will know just how important I view that comic and why I still believe that future history will probably look back at October 1991 and say, "That was when it started to wither and die."

What has prompted this dip back into my bête noire hasn't actually been anything to do with comics, but actually an article I read in one of our Sunday papers - The Observer - about the decline and fall of the newspaper industry. It backed up my belief that in 25 years time there probably will be as much demand for a printed newspaper as there is for vinyl records. Printed newspapers will become a niche market - a bit like the US comic book industry. ABC figures suggest there's been a drop of nearly 50% in readers in the last 25 years and when you consider that it is estimated that less than a third of the population would read a newspaper in those days, that means, with natural wastage, etc., that less than 1/8th of the population pick up a daily paper now (and that doesn't just mean the national press).

Take one of the UK's most popular comics, Viz and examine it's sales. [In many ways I don't know why I didn't focus more on this comedy comic in the main bulk of the book, but...] Viz began modestly, the first issue from 1979 only had a 'print' run of 150. By the early 80s it was up to 5,000 and had become a cult success. By 1989 its worldwide sales (99% of which were in the UK) was in excess of 1,000,000 - a phenomenal rise, but by 2001, as the Internet and computer technology steam rolled across the world, sales were down to less than 200,000. In 2009 they were down to less than 80,000 and unofficial figures suggest that sales in 2012 are below 50,000. Even the most optimistic fellow would have to agree that this sales trend doesn't look like it's going to reverse itself. Viz by some of its contributors own admissions could cease to exist by 2015, or become what it was before it was sold to Virgin Books and then ultimately to John Brown Publishing, a cult magazine with a small but select audience, or as we used to call it in the 70s - a stripzine. Viz is also not your conventional comic with probably 95% of its readers never looking at (or even being aware of) a 'mainstream' superhero comic.

Someone I work with bought the Kindle version of the book and has been talking to me about the 1990s and how he couldn't understand the incentive to run a comic shop if the odds were so firmly stacked against you. The truth is it looks like it was easier to run a comic shop in the 1990s compared to now; for starters you had some comics which 'sold' easily in excess of 100,000 copies, which given the split should have, at least, given lots of retailers some turnover. But, there are comics that 'sell' over 100,000 in 2012, so surely it has to be much healthier, especially as most comics cost a gold ingot or a small mortgage now? Well, for starters there were more books selling in excess of 100,000 copies (some even got into the millions, but we know what happened after that) and there were a lot more titles selling between 40-99,000. 38 titles sold more than 40,000 copies in March 2012, but in March 2000 (when I was still producing Comics Economics for Comics International), 92 of the top 100 were selling more than 40k. In 1991, the top 142 comics sold more than 40k - that's 102 less comics in 21 years (which unfortunately is a pretty meaningless fact, but looks like it backs my argument up).

In other words there has been nothing to disprove my theory of diminishing returns and arguably had superhero films not sparked the imagination of cinema going crowds in recent years, the sales might be considerably less. The smart arses, clever clogs and blindly defensive amongst you will scream at me about trade paperbacks and how they are the future and I'm, yet again, an anachronism who is talking the 1990s in the second decade of the 21st century. But are trade paperback sales that good? A friend of mine who has co-created a reasonably successful comic that has been collected told me a few very interesting facts. For a start we tend to think Amazon is now the big seller and if you see a book at the top of an Amazon chart then you take it for granted it's sold a shed load. No; my friend's first trade paperback got to the top of its specific Amazon chart on the basis of selling just over 50 copies. The total sales for the book with Amazon have been somewhere in the region of 2000, the overall sales was around 8,000 and while that made everyone money, it hardly made anyone a millionaire - it barely paid a year's mortgage payments. Donald Trump or Alan Sugar would not be viewing the comic trade paperback market as a growth market.

The trade paperback market is actually just the same as the comic book market and those who don't believe me are obviously wilfully ignorant - it's the same product in a different package; therefore practically the same audience is being targeted. There is little or no evidence that more than a handful of trade paperback sales go to people who aren't already comic fans. When asked for a guess, my friend suggested that possibly half of the 2000 Amazon sales might be from people who were unabashed comic fans, half of the rest were probably comics fans trying something new, half of the remainder would be casual comics buyers, half of those that were left were probably at some point in their lives comic fans, which would leave about 125, or roughly 6% of sales, being bought by Joe Public, and frankly I think that's optimistic, because any company claiming 6% of their sales from people who don't fall into any demographic they abide by has to be seen as a good thing. But... this isn't a multi-million dollar business any longer. It is smaller now than it has ever been and the profit margins get smaller every year.

People will argue that a trade paperback produced in the right way could make the creators/publishers a lot of money from selling very few copies; oddly enough, I hear this argument but I never actually see any evidence to back it up, while I have seen the comics industry contract continuously. I know a few young people who read comics; they spend maybe £10 a month; that's four new comics, possibly five if they're lucky. For £1 in 1976 I could buy 14 comics and have enough money left for some sweets. Yes, I know, times change, inflation, cost of living, manufacturing costs, etc., but if comics want to survive surely the best way is to make them cheap enough for more kids to buy them - if, that is, they want the print genre to remain. So like I blame Margaret Thatcher for the mess Britain is in today, I blame X-Men #1 for where the comics industry is now. It hasn't escaped me that the X-Men are no longer guaranteed to be the top seller. If you'd've said to Marvel execs in 1991 that by 2012 the X-Men would be selling 65,000 copies, he probably would have looked at you like you were a fool (he might even have called you one, they were wild and crazy those Marvel execs). 

I'm betting Jim Lee will never see another million dollar pay day from a comic, even if he returned to the X-Men with Chris Claremont and resurrected a zombie Jack Kirby to draw the covers. I'm pretty convinced you'd have to be a very frugal and resourceful person to be able to live really well from comic book work alone and even if there are 200 writers and artists out there who are, 20 years ago there was 1000 and ironically 20 years before that probably less than 100 (because most artists had to supplement their income in some other way and were treated like shit by the publishers). 

I would like to see the comic book stay and it will because nostalgia tends to be a powerful thing. Until we banish paper someone will be banging out pamphlets in one form or another and maybe that should be where comics go; at least there would be love behind the staples and a passion between the panels. 

So Happy 21st (New) X-Men #1; I'm amazed so many years have passed since then and I'm still talking about you.

Friday, 27 April 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 6

Believe it or not, writing my comics memoirs hasn't been as cathartic as I believed it would be. I suppose it has a lot to do with leaving me feeling like I've advertised to the entire world more about my faults, and those of others, than my positives. Yes, that sounds stupid, considering I've been criticised for blowing my own trumpet; for suggesting that I was the sole reason for some things being a success and others being failures. For being morally on higher ground than others and even for painting a Dorian Gray picture of the man who many revered. But, I was lucky. I will never forget that, especially over the last few years.

When Borderline finished, well, actually, about four months before it finished its monthly run, I'd given up. Which was why, a year later, I sat down and wrote over 200,000 words, which would eventually get edited and edited down to the 160,000 or so words that got published on Kindle last year. Pete Ashton was right; much of the first draft was like a long drunken blog post. I wanted to write it out of my system, but despite all the 'adventures' I had, I don't think I managed to convey just how bad it was and just how stupid I was for sticking with it. A better man would have decked Dez, taken what was rightfully his and made damn sure that he could never repeat the actions he did to me to another person. But I didn't.

When my mother died, my brother described it as surreal. When a good friend's mother died on the same day Princess Diana was killed, she described it as both surreal and distasteful; surreal because the world just carries on, despite the size of your own personal loss and distasteful because of the outpouring of grief aimed at someone who wasn't my friend's mother. Death is a surreal and highly personal thing. After my comics career died, I became a mischievous poltergeist; rattling the windows of the people who might quite easily forget me. I had gone from a man who could not work for other people, because I didn't like to be told anything to a humble, to a self-effacing masochist who let himself be metaphorically butt-fucked on a weekly basis because it allowed me to be a lazy bastard.

The 10+ years I've been away from earning a living from comics, I've earned considerably less and have worked exponentially harder; I'm relatively fulfilled, but there's part of me that hates myself for not trying harder, for not having more of a backbone, for not being my own man sooner and for being nothing more than below average.

The irony and I've probably said this before, but it deserves repeating; Dez left himself in an odd situation when it came to me; he knew that I was a lazy, grammatically inept, potentially above average writer and editor; he was also far more concerned about what others thought of him and the decisions he made - why else would he be forever trying to mould all of us into the public image he wanted the people to see - all of us mini-Dezes, repeating the party manifesto. Dez had to be very careful who he said I was shit to as he discovered on The Comics Journal forum when he tried to start a fight with me at just about the height of my popularity.

It wasn't really like he needed to do a lot; I've had loads of stuff published that looks like it was written by a Statement of Educational Needs child; I'd lost the gig at Comics World partly because it was dying, but long before it died. I think Steve Holland, the editor, had little patience and less understanding of my writing foibles; the ones Dez cottoned on to like any reasonable editor would. The Marvel UK gig ended acrimoniously. The DC one was a combination of bad timing, laziness and some could argue tactlessness. I'm not the easiest of people in the world to have working for you, obviously. I think I'm a far more competent writer and editor now than I was then, but still have loads of blindspots and elementary errors that I should have got out of years ago. Dez couldn't understand why I repeated errors and I've since explained it away with some psychoanalysis and jargon, but in the dark moments when I don't love myself, I just figure he couldn't understand it because he didn't quite understand my already odd brain once it was full of dope.

In the years since leaving comics, I have suffered from three bouts of debilitating depression. At least two of these experiences were brought on by self doubt. Ironically, I never suffered from depression when I worked with Dez and yet all the jobs I've had since 2001, I've never felt as lonely and isolated as I did when I worked for him. The years since the split haven't been kind to my id. It has left me with times of extreme self loathing.

The reason I believe I am better now than ever before, despite now being 50, is because when I parted company with Dez, my safety net went with me. For everything I had to put up from him, I was a lazy, drug-addled lackey, who allowed himself to be treated that way because I was too damned lazy and unmotivated to improve myself. He might have had the touch of a rhino, but deep down, for a few years at least, I think Dez had hopes for me; I'm not exactly sure what those hopes were, but I'm convinced he had them.

Did I emphasise enough just how fucked and bombed I was most of the time? That has a lot to do with it and the fact that I am not a lightweight meant that I could get utterly shitfaced and still function at jobs that needed to be done that required no real thought. One of his assistants told me that I used to disappear after about 11:00pm; not literally, just inside my head and even Dez wouldn't bother me if I was in the 'zone' because I produced huge quantities of work that admittedly needed copy editing, but was done so quickly that the pros outweighed the cons by miles. This was probably why he used me. I am prolific and I am unflappable at deadline.

As I said, I'm now 50; it seems remarkable that a journey that started for real in 1971 and has taken up 41 years of my life, is so alien to me now. The fact that I am wringing the life out of analysing stuff I've already gone over suggests to me that I can't let go, I can't say no to the other drug that has controlled huge quantities of my life.

If I hadn't been such a little fucker at school and come away with a better education and done some uni time, I think I still would have been a comics fan and maybe I would have tried to have been more successful; which considering how honoured I feel at times to have worked around the centre of the industry, would have been some achievement. Who knows, in some alternate reality; one where I did good; I might be a millionaire. Heh.

I attribute Dez Skinn for one other thing; destroying my ambition, which in turn left me with gnawing confidence issues. Whether or not it was justified, I was once very confident in my skin. People commented, some doubted, but all couldn't deny that I was the least insecure person they knew. I was totally secure, completely confident and probably pretty dislikeable. A good friend of mine, a chap called Ian Bates, would accentuate on the positives; he would tell me that however much it felt like hell, working for Dez ultimately made me a better person; I just needed to rid myself of him to discover that. But the two of us (Ian and I) never go there; it is a subject that is too raw, for me, even now. If nothing else, Dez has left me scarred and incredibly insecure about my ability to the point where I shy away from praise; I worry about personal development meetings and reviews; I'm really conscious of any written reports I hand in, despite never having received anything but glowing feedback.

You could argue that drugs played a big part. I would agree they played their part. I am, at times, a mixed bag of metaphors, constantly contradicting myself.

So, what now? I feel I've truly exhausted my repertoire; there is very little but fumes left in the tank - I had considered talking about DC's Watchmen prequels, but couldn't think of anything other than greed and politics to focus on, or my lack of literary respect for the writer of the original. My brother-in-law brought up a bag of new releases last week, they all just confounded me. I might as well have been looking at a physics book, for the amount of interest and curiosity they produced. What would be the point of prolonging my pain - especially after my diatribe on applications which proved, as one friend said that I really am out of the loop - and yours? Am I not just doing this to bask, just a little longer, in the eyes of the handful of people who have realised this blog is still going?

I'm not going to say never; there are still loads of links to comics in my life - movies, friends and the very occasional dip into some comics via the PC; what I've been doing largely since 2005. I am an anachronism.

See you in the funny pages.

If you want good, unequivocal comics opinion, reviews and stuff, go to and read the wondrous words of my good friend, colleague and sometime writing partner Martin Shipp.

Monday, 9 April 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 5

Let's look at the stats. The period where I talked about Comics International were the highest viewed pages during the entire year long run of the book; yet, surprisingly garnered very few comments - I might have comment approval turned on, but I only received one comment that I didn't run and that was right at the beginning, long before I talked about Dez, CI and that strange semi-celebrity period during the 1990s.

During the late 1990s, Dez Skinn discovered strategy games and through the medium of Age of Empires you got to see just what made the man tick. He is/was a relentless competitor, probably born out of his disinterest and self-confessed uselessness at sports. If there was another way to win, he would pursue it with vigour. As a businessman, he might not have been in Sir Alan Sugar or Steve Jobs's league, but he knew how to survive comfortably and he knew how to be ruthless to protect his life. This isn't a bad thing. Sometimes you have to be hard to be fair - as our incumbent government keep harping on about - but Dez wasn't just ruthless in business, he was also ruthless in play and just about everywhere else he could be.

I learned very quickly that beating him at pool during our lunchtime pub sessions was something I only did if I wanted to spend the afternoon doing the magazine equivalent of cleaning toilets. Don't get me wrong, he knew his way around a pool table; he just wasn't a patch on me. I remember the one time we ever played snooker; I started to deliberately miss shots because he was so woefully inept at it and was growing more and more angry at his inability to beat me. Obviously, this lesson was not one I'd learned well enough by the time we went to San Diego and thrashing him on American pool tables was just enough to turn him into psycho-boss. Watch Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks if you want a watered down version of what it's like to work for a complete and utter bastard.

But Dez's new found 90s love of Age of Empires was something that caused quite a few ructions; especially at the time just before I got 'fired'. I was pretty much rubbish at the game and this was perfect for Dez. It was something he could relentlessly grind me into the floor with and the fact that I had to play it kind of made his almost orgasmic joy greater. When I stopped going down so often, I knew that deadline weekends would have to include at least three hours at the end of being crushed by his hordes of armies - whether I liked it or not. But once I'd been sacked, Dez needed some new whipping boy and Mike Conroy had absolutely zero interest in any computer game and had the strategical nous of a dead vole. So, part of me actually believes there was the Age of Empires reason why Dez began reintroducing me to the magazine's hierarchy. He knew that I was stupid enough to play him.

However, when I returned, properly, to the fold, it was under my conditions, despite what he believed, and we never played AoE again. It was around this time that he started to invite people round to the house in Finchley. There had always been a steady stream of visitors at the office; we got about 5 a week, which might seem little, but was actually a great sense of relief, because Dez loved playing the host, even on deadline and it took a little of the heat off a day. Some of these visitors were AoE friends; others just long standing comics friends and it was after one of these comics friends came over that possibly the most controversial thing during my time at CI happened. One I've never talked about publicly, because for many years I hated myself about not doing something about it. Now, with hindsight and events in recent months I am unbelievably glad that I didn't say anything, because I might have implicated an innocent man in something truly horrific.

Not the mention the fact that of everything I've written about, I can get corroborating statements to confirm that it happened; with this thing I didn't and ended up being complicit in a crime. So, legally, this is the dodgiest ground we've ventured near...

I got in one Monday morning; Dez had thrown the key down and told me to get on with things; he'd had a late night and wouldn't be down for a while. So I let myself in, made a coffee, rolled a spliff and sat down at my computer station, which was still on...

My PC was often used by networked AoE players, so finding it on was not an unusual thing. What I would normally do was just open an application and start getting on with stuff. There was always copy typing to do; classified ads to input and just stuff. This being the 90s, there wasn't ever the huge need to be on line all the time - we had a ISDN connection, because we embraced attachments like no other - but when my monitor cleared, whoever had been on the computer had left themselves in Internet Explorer and for some strange reason, I looked at the browsing history. I don't know why; it's not something I normally did; but this was back in the days of Windows 3.1 and 95 and both Dez and I were pretty much DOS masters, so we often did things you would never contemplate doing with modern PCs.

The URLs displayed all looked pretty sordid, but some of them looked very sordid. Clicking on one I was taken to a page that made me cough up my smoke and inhale my coffee. Abhorred by what I'd seen, I came out of it and sat there with a massive dilemma. I looked at the Temp folder in Windows and there were at least another 40 obscene images all cached there. I did something really stupid. I deleted all the pictures. Deleted the browsing history. Deleted any evidence (or so I believed) that could incriminate Dez in any way. Then my conscious started to work at me. Was my boss a paedophile?

When Dez came down to the office a few hours later, he said the two things that years later would make me relieved I never said or did anything. He told me that he hadn't gone to bed until 4am; he had been working with Rob Barrow on a Camden Mart advert; had crashed and left Rob to let himself out. This meant, at the time, that either both of them were looking or one might have looked after the other had gone - too many variables.

The incident very much disappeared from my mind for a couple of years, but one day when things were getting really tough for Mike Conroy and I, I told my replacement news editor about the web pages. his reaction was as shocked and incredulous as mine had been, but suddenly we now both had a minuscule doubt in our minds about the Stan Lee of British comics...

I've told a number of people about this over the years; most of them dislike Dez with a passion and have berated me for not saying anything. Then last year, Rob Barrow was found guilty of possessing more than 1million indecent images of child pornography. The same Rob Barrow who had sat up working on an ad with Dez until the wee hours of the morning and then had stayed to finish up some things after Dez went to bed. This must have been manna from heaven for a paedophile; given carte blanche on a PC with little or no comeback.

There had been rumblings about Rob's sexuality/preference/interests for years, but none of his closest friends believed any of them. As one said to me about Rob's penchant for young boys helping him at marts was that no one batters an eyelid at youth workers and none of the kids who worked for Rob during the 80s and 90s ever looked like they didn't want to be there - but I suppose that's part of the MO for perverts and paedos. I had even pooh-poohed a suggestion from a friend that Rob was a kiddie-fiddler; it just didn't seem logical or possible. But the facts are there now and deep down I wish I'd said something to Dez at the time. But, what would I have done if he had said or done anything that would have implicated himself or made me doubt the veracity of his comments? I was too much of a coward to say anything, but equally I was also selfish - something like this could have destroyed the magazine and possibly implicated me in the whole sordid business...

I'd like to think this was just 'one of those things', but for the last 12 years I have worked with children and adolescents; I've never been acutely aware of the shit that kids have to suffer at the hands of freaks and perverts. I dislike myself for not saying anything at the time; I hate myself that 15 years down the line the person probably responsible for the filth finally was caught and punished, because it should have happened a damned sight sooner. But, I'm also quite pleased that for once, in a period of my life where knee-jerk reactions were common that I had the patience to try and find out if Dez was really even more evil than I had believed. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't check browser history again after that, but apart from the occasional bit of conventional porn, I never found anything I maybe wouldn't have looked at myself.

As for Age of Empires... well, about 2005, when I first discovered the joys of torrents and illegal downloads, I got a version of the game and played it for about two hours. I hated it as much then as I had the first time around and the first time I have thought of it again was when I sat down to write this. Hopefully it will be the last.

Next time: After spending hours writing MMC: Extra Portions 4, I discovered that I really am so far out of the loop that I'm making a mockery of myself, so next time might be the last time...

Saturday, 31 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 4

An aside; because anyone who has followed this knows I like asides (I'm also a big fan of some b-sides too).

At some point during the serialisation of My Monthly Curse, one of my friends asked me a similar question to the one that prompted me to e-publish and blog serialise the book what I wrote. He asked me if I would go back into comics if could; which considering how vehement I've been about there not being a future in comics seemed a little like asking me if I'd like to invest in manufacturing black and white analogue TV sets. My reply was my stock answer - pay me enough money, guarantee that income for a minimum of five years and don't fuck with me; which as we all know is as likely to happen as a boom in black and white analogue TV sets.

However, this got me thinking and some time later, while watching another friend fiddle with her iPhone, I thought apps. Yes, I met some kids recently who have just got into comics, but come on, after everything you've read can you see how and why that won't save the industry? But what if comics could be made available to be read on a phone or a tablet? They probably can; I'm so out of the loop on modern technology, it's probably been done for years (so don't tell me unless it hasn't, okay?). But my understanding of an app is you either get it for free or pay a nominal charge - what if you gave away a viewing app and then charged a small fee to download each monthly instalment of your favourite comic? Hell, if you could buy a comic for $0.49 to read on your phone or tablet, you'd probably be tempted to try something you wouldn't normally.

The way technology has developed since I dropped out of comics is phenomenal: I have the piss taken out of me regularly because of my archaic and decrepit Samsung phone, but I didn't actually own a mobile phone until 2002, so I really am more of a novice than the average 4 year old. You see for as much as I claim to still not collect, there's this 1500+ CDs behind me that include things I've either downloaded or bought that I have never played; I have them because they were there and either I might like them or I have it because I have something else that I quite liked and one day I might listen to this and like that too... I still collect and suddenly, while perusing my big boss's iPad the other day thought, 'Hmm, you know, you could read a comic on one of these things and it would be hi res and I could, theoretically, read it on the toilet (maybe not the bath, unless I had shitloads of money) and with all those gigabytes of storage space, I could have just about any comicbook series I've ever enjoyed and they would take up NO ROOM! I wouldn't be concerned about how much they're worth or whether I could get a copy of something and that, if I had any inclination to read anything again would be, what they call, a sure bet.

Obviously, the yoof of today can get more kicks from playing a Marvel or DC Universe superhero video game (do they still call them video games?) and with the amount of scope available in these sprawling great mammoths now, you could be anything from Batman to the Joker to a clingon on Batman's cape - the scope is becoming endless. But as a comic and one that could be charged at such an affordable rate that piracy would be almost pointless; think of the money these companies could make from everything they possess?

Heck, you could interactive versions; versions for dyslexics, even the blind. You could package the legit versions with extras to make people want to buy it from the publisher rather than pick up a torrent copy. How about a top writer or artist conducting an exclusive interview split across any title he or she works on as incentive to buy other comics by that creator? Yes, it's the gimmick cover malarkey again, but if you charged $0.49... Plus think of the devastating effect it would eventually have the monopolising distribution company, um, companies? If over the next 20 years tablets become very affordable and the change over to comics on screen is a success then out goes expensive printing, haulage and excessive editorial costs - the companies can pay the creators the same or similar money, but save millions over a year in physical production costs. If a comic sells 10,000 copies at $3.95, the actual profit is going to be something like $1.00, before editorial costs. So out of possibly $10,000 gross profit on a single issue, the company might make $4,000 net profit. If, however, they could sell 10,000 copies at $0.50 each, that's $5,000 profit before editorial costs; okay, you've got to pay some people to convert the finished pages into something that can be scanned and read on a tablet, so you can knock 10% off that gross profit - but that leaves $500 more than a physical copy would make and there is far more scope for increasing sales on marginal titles because of the less than prohibitive price. A fair to middling book with a wee bit of money thrown at it to publicise it throughout the net and the comics community could double the readership and suddenly that minimal extra profit becomes no longer marginal - nearly $10,000 on a single issue instead. To my obviously misguided and addled brain that sounds like a far better area to investigate and develop than attempting to flog the dying horse that is the paper comics medium.

I am convinced that the only real thing preventing some kind of comicbook renaissance is the price you pay. In a world where economics is God and potential customers are inclined to buy food and pay the mortgage before they indulge in a spot of Spandex, innovation has to be the thing these dinosaurs need to invest in - they're dying anyhow, so what's to lose?

Also, talking to my good friend Rodrigo in Brazil last week, I asked him to give me a breakdown of Brazilian comics: home produced comics; kids' books, funnies etc., cost the equivalent of about $1 in Brazilian money; if you want the Marvel or DC superhero titles you'll pay about 200% more, because these are popular amongst the kids - yet home grown books still sell upwards of a million copies a month, while the reprints translated into Portuguese sell about 100,000 copies - but more than enough to make them lucrative. However, because of the cost of superhero reprints, there's been a growing small press market with Brazilians producing Brazilian superheroes (not all of them child friendly either) and these, because they sell massive amounts compared to UK and US small press, are making creators some money, despite the ridiculously cheap cover prices - in line with the funny books. More importantly, it gets them exposure and the chance to work for one of the major USA companies and earn, by their standards, big bucks - it's why Mike Deodato jr went into comics, it was either that or go into design work, because for all the comics Brazil sells, creators don't earn the same as they do in the USA - proving that the USA made a fatal error when it started beatifying their hot artists.

Brazil just replaced the UK as the 6th largest country by GDP. It can't even be described as a Third World country any more. Yes, I'm aware there's a multitude of practical reasons why US and UK comics cost so much and there's the strange peculiarity of comics fans distrusting comics that are ridiculously cheap - Marvel tried a 99c range back in the early 90s and it flopped like a gay man on a lesbian porno set. The fact the line was utter shit is immaterial, no one was tempted and largely because of the price. Fucking comics fans, just love to be as contrary as a contrary thing.

The point is, if this hasn't already been done - why not? If comics - the paper versions - are still needed, then the publishers invest in developing their own small direct supply networks, with local print companies producing small runs of books and shipping them out and setting up deals with book publishers to supply artwork for trade paperbacks and albums.

The future of comics companies might be to dispense with the need for distributors entirely.

Next up: I'm hoping to remember the thing I've forgotten I was going to write about.

Friday, 16 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 3

If Spider-Man ever had a semi-modern renaissance then it was probably around the time that Marvel was lining up hot new artist Todd McFarlane to work with comics veteran (even then) David Michelinie to boost the fortunes of the Wallcrawler, whose comics had been plodding along, inspiring no one and living off its name and reputation.

But before these two had a chance to set Amazing Spider-Man alight, there was Kraven's Last Hunt; a comics story arc that, had it been released a few years later, would have been a prestige mini-series and not much else. Created by J. Marc DeMatteis and Mike Zeck, it was a groundbreaking and controversial six-part story that [spoiler warning] ended up with long-time Spidey villain Kraven the Hunter committing suicide because he could never live up to his greatest nemesis. This was after drugging Peter Parker and burying him in an unmarked grave with limited air supply. This series was as dark as Spider-Man ever got and some of the themes and ideas introduced had the Comics Code of Authority glancing nervously at Marvel's offices. I mean, no one had ever committed suicide in a comic before (maybe they had, I can't remember) and especially not a supposed pinnacle of masculinity which Kraven was. It was shocking and should have heralded an era for the web-slinger filled with ideas never touched on before.

Instead, you got retro-Spidey, which in itself was great fun for a couple of years, at least until Todd McFarlane's ego got the better of him and someone told him he could write.

Kraven's death might have been unexpected and shocking, but death was a really useful plot device for a lot of comics. People remember deaths in comics, so a comic where people die a lot is bound to be a winner. Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz and Frank Cirocco created a SF superhero combo called The Alien Legion, which essentially could have been one of the best comics ever created, but never really found the right audience. Imagine the French Foreign Legion meets Star Wars, that was Alien Legion and it had some excellent artwork, strong stories and minuscule support from Marvel's Epic line. It wasn't owned by Marvel so they spent the equivalent of a buck eighty on its promotion.

While it wasn't like Marvel's other death book - Strikerforce Morituri - where you could pretty much bet the farm that someone would die and regularly, in Alien Legion some characters such as Sarigar, Torie Montroc and the brilliant Jugger Grimrod were pretty much guaranteed to survive, no one else was afforded the same luxury. The closest thing I've ever seen to the Legion in film was Paul Vorhoeven's Starship Troopers. The earlier issues are the ones worth reading, before it became too fixated on Grimrod.

Death is also a lead character in another Marvel graphic novel; The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin acted as kind of an epilogue to the acid casualty of a writer's early spell on the cosmic superhero. It had one purpose really, to have a superhero die of cancer, it had a secondary purpose, to tug on the heart strings of any comics fan. It was pure schmaltz wrapped up in decay and blackness. It has probably been over-written umpteen times since it originally came out and probably struggles to pass the test of time (Starlin's artwork is just so 1970s), but if you want to feel miserable and elated at the same time, this might fit the bill.

Death as a character was a sensibly used guest star in DC's The Sandman, a series which I hate admitting that I loved at times. It was like the X-Men in many ways, you just couldn't pick out one issue or one story that superseded any other and the opening seven issues were possibly the weakest, it really sprang into life with the introduction of Death in #8 and Season of Mists is possibly my personal favourite story arc. It's almost clichéd to say it, but if you haven't read comics, read the one that most other non-comics fans read.

Oh and I have told you that I discovered Dave McKean haven't I?

Moving away from mortality and back at Marvel, where one of my true loves was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's long and at times simply brilliant Fantastic Four. I dread to think how much out of time they must look now; how simplistic and unadulterated they were; but for 100 issues it was pretty brilliant stuff. Unfortunately, anything but trade paperbacks would set you back the cost of your house, your parents' house and all of their friends' houses; so let's move on...

Alan Moore might have reinvented Swamp Thing, but most of the 23-odd issue first series were personal favourites of mine. Initially by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, it has been documented that it was the first US comic I bought and still have, but after their remarkable 10 issue run, we were treated to David Michelinie (again) and Nestor Redondo's slightly less gothic, more superhero slanted version, which I loved with equal enthusiasm. Truthfully, most of them suck by today's standards, but hell, I enjoyed them and hated what my neighbour Mr Moore did with it, even if it was evolution.

Moore, with the aid of Gene Ha, produced Top Ten, a kind of superhero Hill Street Blues and it was one of Image's true high points. Unfortunately, it was so irregular that you kind of forgot what it was about and I'd long given up comics by the time it probably progressed or even finished. It was a good read, looked nice and evoked the feelings you got from watching a well made TV series.

Rarely has there been a comic that has stopped or has been cancelled that fully deserves your attention and what makes my next nomination all the more odd is that it only lasted 3 issues and never finished, yet it was, quite simply, one of the loopiest and intelligently put together comics ever published. Bill Willingham's Coventry, had it been published by a company with money, rather than Fantagraphics, might have been one of the most successful independent comics of all time; but it wasn't and Willingham took some of the ideas to DC for his Vertigo book Fables (which isn't a patch on the source inspiration). Set in the 51st State of the USA in an alternative universe where it is the only state where magic is allowed to be practised, it offered so much and might have delivered with the couple of spin-off novels released in 2002, but I don't know, I only found out about the books about two minutes ago.

What I do know about Coventry is that every single person I showed it to, bought it and each to a man was as disappointed as I was that it never continued.

I always had a bit of a soft spot for Howard the Duck or it might have been a teenage crush on Beverley Switzler's tits, which were finally unveiled by Gene Colan in the Howard the Duck magazine. For it's time it was a cutting edge satirical comic book, a rarity for US mainstream comics, looking back on it now, it was a strange comic, for which Marvel took a lot of risks with, but I suspect it has little more than curiosity value now, although it documents a period in US life that has largely been sandwiched and overlooked between the reigns of Nixon and Reagan.

Jim Starlin crops up a lot in my nominations and amazingly I got into him before I discovered drugs - a child psychologist might have fun with that - because he came into my life when I was about 14. Starlin did shit loads of stuff, but also had a name for himself as something of a maverick re-inventor, long before John Byrne or Alan Moore 'mastered' it. He took a lame character, originally invented by Lee and Kirby and poorly rendered in the interim by Herb Trimpe and Len Wein into one of the craziest Marvel comics ever created and then, through some clever writing managed to tie it into the core Marvel universe without so much as a dissenting voice. Warlock was bonkers comics and I suspect it would still be pretty bonkers even today. This sprawling story eventually played out in two hard to find Marvel annuals - Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two in One Annual #2 and had more superheroes than you could shake a stick at (Starlin loved drawing mass superhero scenes, even if he could never master the art of drawing feet).

I don't know if (Adam) Warlock has ever been resurrected, but when he died, like Captain Marvel, you got the feeling that bringing him back would be a story too far.

Next time: maybe some more, I'll have to search the memory banks; but there will be something.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 2

I was trying to think if there was one thing most people who have heard of me would remember about me. Would it be as the guy who invented Borderline (hopefully), the git who worked on Comics International (probably), the bloke that spent a lot of time talking about The X-Men (doubtful, unless you've known me a loooong time) or even the man who is best known for telling people what he's most known for, just to remind them, in case my name has slipped their mind or they just remember me as the long haired fella with the big nose who loved himself? Whatever.

Most people who remember me as, first and foremost, a comics fan will probably associate me with the X-Men; it is, after all, one of the key obsessions in My Monthly Curse and yet, I've often said I can't think of a single X-Men story or arc that I would include in a favourite top ten comics - no, not the Death of Phoenix* or the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams issues, even Jim Steranko's brief cameos; most of them were either rendered redundant or were big dollops of shit with a dusting of loveliness to disguise the fact that the story was about as interesting as counting the amount of hairs on your forearm.

The X-Men was a bit strange. it got canned because, essentially, it was neglected and had stories that made Millie the Model worth reading. It was one of those comics that seemed to get passed around the Marvel Bullpen in a Russian Roulette fashion and I think Roy Thomas returned to it because it was the first comic he really got the chance to have a good run on, but he did it much too late. Another problem with the X-Men was, despite it being pretty much cutting edge upon its return, Chris Claremont recreated a comic as a soap opera, so while you had story arcs, you had other stories running in the background all the time, so even if separate issues were defined, it was difficult to pick any one specific issue or story arc as stand out. To be fair to it though, in the late 70s, when the book was having its renaissance it was pretty much unique compared to most of the rest of the major companies stable of titles. Plus it had had a major character's death happen inside 6 months, which sort of made it a bit edgy - who would die next?

It was also a book where the characters were so well developed that it wasn't about the stories as such, but about the way the characters were progressing and growing with the reader. People will nominate favourite stories such as the first Savage Land tale or the Hellfire club, the Brood, Inferno, Nimrod, the Starjammers, the Sentinels, etc etc ad nausea, because people have their favourites. However, I found most X-Men comics to be enjoyably frustrating and having left with most of those frustrations intact, I wouldn't return to it now if someone offered them all free of charge and threw in their beautiful wife to give me oral pleasure. Besides, I've seen your wife's teeth and frankly I wouldn't want those teeth anywhere near me.

Do I have a favourite X-Men comic? It depends what you class as an X-Men comic. If I had to pick one for a collection on pleasure value alone it would either be X-Men #66 by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger; as it was the first US X-Men comic I ever bought, therefore it has some weird sentimental value. If I had to pick something else, it might be Uncanny X-Men #200 by Chris Claremont, John Romita jr and Dan Green, not because it was particularly stunning, but because it promised so much. Apart from those two I'm hard pressed to remember anything that sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a comic book that did more for your imagination than it did for your reality (or your finances).

However, I think there have been some awesome spin-offs - which is weird considering I've never been a fan of spin-offs. Some of the Claremont and Alan Davis Excaliburs were pretty funky; some of Peter David and Larry Stroman X-Factors were worth another read. I, perversely, liked Louise Simonson and Brett Blevins's New Mutants, thought the 6-part Longshot series was fantastic eye candy and didn't have a bad story (Ann Nocenti again) and Art Adams's X-Men annuals always looked fantastic even if the stories were always a bit twee. The populist in me likes the Peter David and Todd McFarlane issue of The Incredible Hulk where the green (or grey as he was then) giant had a rematch with Wolverine, even if it was one of the most popular and expensive comics of the 1990s (and only in this list by virtue of its guest star).

The other real enigma about the X-Men is the fact that there are so many great characters in search of the ultimate storyline. Over the years, heroes such as Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Rogue, to name just a handful, have been strong characters as 'humans' as well as heroes, with interesting back stories and likeable personalities; but... you know... it's like reuniting the cast of a brilliant TV series and getting them to do something else; the chemistry might be there, but the scripts just make it a novelty item.

The X-Men was more about a way of life rather than a battle every issue. It was probably the first comic ever to ponder; to take 5 between massive stories. It could have issues where nothing particularly happened apart from conversation and some fans would have gladly had this every month for a decade if it untied some of the convoluted and knotted history; because people who have never read this comic or all its family of titles cannot possibly understand the miasma it created and if you think that's a harsh or even wrong definition, then think again.

Another problem the X-Men had was Wolverine - the puzzle within the enigma. It got to the stage during the 1990s where Logan was appearing in just about every Marvel comic being published at some point in a calendar year. Wolverine sold, so Marvel put him everywhere and rarely was it more than just a gimmick or a poorly executed attempt to boost sales with a piss poor story with shit artwork. The X-Men weren't the X-Men without Wolverine; more of a cash cow than a vicious predator. It also kind of made a mockery of Marvel's famous continuity.

Of course, one of the reasons that the X-Men was successful was its similes to race problems, oppression, and the analogies and parallels it used - mutants were blacks, Jews, gays and Muslims all wrapped up in spandex and prejudice became the watch word in the series - no other comic could focus on the differences and how unsettling they were to normal people more than X-Men. It also allowed Chris Claremont to get subtly political by portraying Republicans as fascists and kind of made The X-Men the first oppressed minorities comicbook - I mean, it had a black chick, a Jew, a lesbian couple and balanced it with a fuzzy blue German, a Russian (therefore a communist) and worst of all... a Canadian...

It wasn't just the themes and the writing that made the comic popular. The X-Men's list of artists is like a veritable who's who of comics legends: Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita jr, Marc Silvestri, Arthur Adams, Michael Golden, Frank Quitely, Alan Davis, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio, Joe Madureira, Terry Austin, Dan Green, Scott Williams and probably a lot more since I last read an issue - approximately Uncanny X-Men #380, (I'd pretty much stopped collecting it by #350). Looking at it now it seems like an even greater mess. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons why I no longer want to read comics.

* Oddly enough The Death of the Phoenix is something I was discussing at work today with a couple of new comics fans - two 15 year olds - both relatively new to comics and spending over £10 a month on just FOUR comics each! They had both been told that probably the ultimate X-Men story was the death of Jean Grey - the first death (she gets better and dies again later I've been told) and neither of them regard it as anything more than a slow paced story that didn't really install any interest in the supposed 'classics'. They were more into Spider-Man (which isn't a bad thing, really), so I recommended they read Kraven's Last Hunt.

One thing I was quite interested in was their reaction to the fact that I used to collect comics and worked in them for years. They were impressed, but of course, it meant little to them. They were intrigued that I'd worked for Marvel UK writing a 52-part biography of all the X-Men in the Marvel universe, which is part of my original tale that managed to slip through the cracks...

I got approached by Marvel on the recommendation of Steve Holland, the editor of Comics World and my other boss - because I wrote a monthly column for that magazine for almost its entire life. The Marvel UK editor's name escapes me - that impressive - I think it was Scott something. Anyhow, he was highly critical of my contributions - and rightly so - because I was lackadaisical and submitted pretty shoddy copy. If I wanted to be pissy, I'd say he wasn't an editor and didn't know how to edit. He seemed to expect word perfect copy and everyone needs an editor; my mistakes were pretty fundamental, yes, but that's what a copy editor is for. Marvel UK didn't have any of them by the time I worked there.

Anyhow, I got about 20 weeks into the assignment and I was getting hassled by Dez Skinn because I was spending too much time on this 'other job'; a job, incidentally, that he hated me having and virtually admitted so one night when he drank most of a bottle of ouzo. I rang the editor and basically said he wasn't happy with me, I wasn't happy with him, so perhaps he should find someone else to finish it; he already had a replacement lined up and was going to tell me. Oddly enough, the replacement had been busy working for weeks on future contributions and yet this Scott fellow, from New Zealand, was going to tell me. But this was my fault; I didn't treat the job serious enough and besides I already had my own arsehole; I worked for an arsehole, I didn't need my own personalised mutant power of having no less than 3 arseholes.

The sad thing is I have all the issues of Comics World, Comics International and all the other magazines I was published in, but I never kept those British X-Men comics, which had my name in bold on the contents page for 20 weeks. I can't think why.

Next time: having got t'mutants out of the way, the rest of my recommendations (possibly).