Monday, 20 February 2012

After the Party... The Menopause

That's all over then. I've been very pleased with the reaction and interest generated by my tale. It might not have reached as many people as I would have liked, but it's there, for all to see and read for as long as I keep it there or Blogger stays in business.

Admittedly, I didn't receive the shit storm I expected at times - not that I wrote it to cause any kind of storm - and I was surprised by the amount of supportive emails, personal (horror) stories about working in the industry and reignited friendships. I've had moments where I've felt that spark in me, the one that flares up whenever I show a glimmering of interest in comics; the one that's telling me that perhaps I should try and get back into it, even if it's not as a fan but as an observer; but the truth is I now find comics deathly dull.

I'll be 50 in a couple of months; I got involved in US comics for the first time when I was 10. That's 4/5ths of my life that has been linked by 20-odd pages of four coloured bollocks. Yes, I had years away, but like any bad addict, I managed to sneak back into the same old groove, like dragging on a big reefer and chilling out like it was only yesterday I'd last done it. Obviously, that was one of the reasons for writing My Monthly Curse. When Pete Ashton asked me why I kept plugging away with comics when it continually gave me a good spit roasting, I thought, 'Hey, tobacco has never done me any good, but Christ I'm happy to slowly kill myself (like my parents) by inhaling carcinogenic smoke and turning my arteries into deadly cul-de-sacs'. There is probably no rational explanation.

If someone out there thought, for argument's sake, that Borderline could make a triumphant comeback, maybe as a website, and were prepared to treat the project with respect and promote diversity, then I'd be more than happy to let them do it. I'm not precious. I'd be happy with a cursory mention on the 'about' page. However, I don't think something that is now over 10 years old and only lasted two years is likely to resonate throughout comics. The name might open a few doors, especially amongst some veterans of comics, but generally I suspect that a large percentage of people who work in comics now wouldn't be aware of its contribution. But if anyone wants to do it; feels it is necessary, then they know how to contact me.

I do believe that Borderline deserves recognition in comics history. I doubt it will get it.

But... I might hate comics. I might not get any kick whatsoever from reading them, but it's an industry that I have always displayed an intense amount of passion for. Borderline shouldn't really have existed. I should have walked away from Comics International and done something else, straight away. The thing was I had and to some degrees still do have a passion for the comics industry. I don't know if it's just because I loved it so much, or if I've grown to want recognition from my peers - maybe it's a bit of both? But, anyone working on Borderline will tell you that I wasn't important - not when the chips were down - what was important was the magazine and the way it catered to its readers and the way it recognised the contributors.

I actually have never really craved the spotlight (honest, guv) and if I haven't talked about this over the last year then here it is: I have told just about everyone I have ever worked with in comics that I'm really happy being a backroom boy. I have always felt there should be some recognition for the backroom staff, they are the guys who oil the machine, feed it and rub its back when it has wind. For me keeping the machine working has, remarkably, always been my driving force. And, if I'd really wanted to be a successful writer, in comics or outside of it, I would have worked harder to achieve it. I would have done all the things that I could be construed as criticising people in the book for.

But in all self-honesty, my best position at CI and Borderline was as the production manager - the guy who puts all the elements together to produce the finished product. The guy who solves the problems. I might have mended as many bridges as I napalmed in my years, but I ensured that everyone involved in whatever process I was doing was as committed to it as I was. I suppose I'm a motivator, but I've never really seen myself as one, so it's an unusual way to describe myself.

In my new job, I manage a department, but I don't feel as though I'm there to just delegate. I do as much, sometimes more, than my staff, but as a result, they're working with me; they're on the same hymn sheet; they're doing the things we need to do without me having to stand over them with a stick. That has never happened and would never happen on my watch. You can take a horse to water, but you can't make it drink! If I had a work ambition left in me it would be project managing something that improves the lives of others and getting 101% out of the people who are involved, because they want to, not because they feel obligated to. Borderline worked because everyone involved felt their contribution was important - the prima donnas ran away very quickly and left the nucleus of brilliance - I just pointed that luminescence in the right direction.


I've been alarmed to discover that what remains of the retailing market is still as slapdash and hand-to-mouth as it seems to have always been. I've heard stories about new retailers really trying to make a difference; yet I'm hearing stories about the same people that suggests they have learnt nothing and have come into comics retailing with the same enthusiasm and zero business acumen as so many of their predecessors.

I cannot see a happy ending for retail and that should mean possibly the end of the comic book business as even a peripheral member of the entertainment industry. Comics are in for a massive change in the UK and US, I firmly believe that, but I'm firm in the belief that economics will be the ultimate downfall. What has been the law of diminishing returns for many years will be reduced to only those stupid enough to part with extortionate amounts of cash for trade paperbacks - because there always will be; like people prefer vinyl to CDs or MP3s.

Unless comicbook companies can develop iPhone apps, iPad display, or interactive comicbooks played via an Xbox or something, then I see the genre turning into something different. Etchings were once all the rage, now there's a handful of people keeping history alive - comics will be like that in 100 years.


Many of the things the comics industry consistently failed to do was be genuinely supportive; I'm not suggesting that rival retailers weren't friends or didn't do things to help each other out - because they did, once - but the reason retail had such a tight bond is because the bastards knew their backs were against the wall - all the time - so they needed to develop a support mechanism.

People in comics are normally convivial and enthusiastic about each other, but they would, if necessary, kill to survive. As retail has changed, I'm not sure the relationship between rivals has benefited and from what I've been told by friends still in the retail business, times have got a wee bit more cut throat and full of false camaraderie and the cynic in me just wants to say, 'It hasn't changed much then!'

If you want support in retail then you're buggered because I expect a lot of other retail businesses are going to be looking at burdening the shop keeper with more of the costs, especially if they are independent traders.

I think it's clear to see from the average High Street that retail in general is changing, dying. Amazon sell trade paperbacks considerably cheaper than an independent retailer; if you have sense you'll forget any loyalties you have and buy from the cheapest place and that means the Internet. I expect retail, in all areas, to change drastically in the next 20 years. The future might be in mail delivery firms.


So... What to do now?

The idea had crossed my mind to start another autobiographical blog, this time about all those years I talked about sans the comics; mainly because my life has some pretty exciting, lunatic and weird things happen in it, plus there's my penchant for illegal drugs and my sometimes farcical situations I find myself in.

But that idea has sort of died off. I really don't want many people to know about much of that life, not unless I can write it under a pseudonym.

Then someone suggested keeping the page going and my reaction was, 'what the bloody hell do I talk about?' To which he said, ask your readers. Throw an open invitation for people to ask me what my knowledge or opinion is of something. As flattering an idea and as interesting as it is, I don't know if anyone really gives a shit. Someone else suggested I could expand on a lot of the book and use some of the stories that got cut or didn't make it. Simple answer to that - they got cut or didn't make it, does that tell you something?

The bottom line is I quite like the idea of people suggesting a topic for me to spout off about - if indeed I can - and I'm still open to ideas, athough I'm all too aware that getting reaction from people is like trying to fuck a duck with an elephant's cock.


  1. I think keeping the column going is a good idea. I'd have something to keep me entertained on the commute. Personally the decline of the London comic shop over the year is something I'd be interested in hearing about. Comicana closed recently and I can only think of about 4-5 shops that now immediately spring to mind. Another topic I can think of is the cult of personality within comics. You touched on it at times with the Warren Ellis message boards, but I'm intrigued as to why fans keep going and buying stuff by the same creators time and time again when they are clearly serving up utter drivel. There's probably a few other topics I could think of it I put my mind to it

  2. As I read in a Milk and Cheese strip about 10 years ago : "Comics are DEAD! They DESERVED it!".

    Sadly, for me, comics (just like Doctor Who, really) changed into something I no longer recognise and don't like very much. I joked on Lew Stringer's blog yesterday that 30 years ago, 2000AD's readership had an average age of 10, now it's more like 40. That's the problem with comics today.

    So, is the world heading for a gradual slide into hedonistic techno-narcissism? That's what I want to know, but I suspect I already know the answer.

  3. I'd be happy to keep reading any new posts, whatever the topic may be. I would be particularly interested if you have any recommendations for Euro comics or anything that might shine a bit of light on some lesser know gems. Even stuff on current or more mainstream books that pique your interest or commentary on goings in the industry, given your background.

  4. @Ben: you could always read which is my personal blog. But that tends to be very self-indulgent at times and blathers on about my life.
    As for recommendations and the like... eek! I haven't read a new comic (apart from the odd Buffy and most of the Walking Depressed, um, I mean Dead) in a loooong time and a lot of the stuff I could recommend from bygone eras could effectively be governed by my memory of said comics, as I no longer possess much more than a couple of dozen.
    Yeah, my background is extensive, but I don't know half of the people in comics now (and vice versa); I don't even know what's going on to comment on it.
    @Matthew: you were mentally 65 when I first met you; I see nothing has changed to change my mind :p
    @Monty: I've never been able to figure out how come you don't do a blog or something; as much as it pains me to say, you are quite a talented writer :* and you don't find many people as wantonly opinionated as you are! Do a guest column for me; write about London's dwindling comics shops; spread false rumours about GOSH being a children's hospital and not really a comic shop...