Over the duration of serialising this, a number of things became clear to me; bits and pieces that had slipped my mind and disappeared down the memory tubes of life and then resurfaced just when I thought I'd finished rinsing that section out. It got to the stage where I realised I needed to prologue the epilogue with some updated things (it was, for the most part, written, originally, in 2005 and shit happens), extra anecdotal bollocks and just anything that I wanted to add now that its long journey is about to end and I'll have another void to fill.
In 2005, on announcing I was writing a book about comics and my experiences in the industry, I was swamped with emails from people, it was like the old days when I actually worked in comics, downloading 50 emails a day! Many of these people ended up making their way into this book; some made the first draft, but ended up on the cutting room floor. Others just wished me good luck with it, while some reminded me that I should tell the truth and to remember that I’m just as responsible for a lot of the mess as everyone else. There were a few emails from people who just didn’t like the idea of me possibly spilling the beans, or telling a story about them, and there were a couple of emails full of abuse.
Many moons ago, a couple of months after Borderline was launched I answered a question someone raised on one of the comics groups I was a member of and used my answer to give a plug for something that was in Borderline that month. The question asker's response wasn’t very nice, accusing me of using the forum to promote my FREE magazine. I actually sloped off from this one because I wanted more friends than I wanted foes. A couple of months later, shortly after the Mark Waid incident on the WEF, I got an email from this guy telling me to cool it and to back off from being nasty and to just do as everyone says – the problem was I’d already posted a response which flew in the face of all his suggestions. Now his advice at the time was quite forward – it was like he was ordering me to do it rather than making a suggestion. Our friend with the advice, one David Alexander McDonald (formerly Stephen MacDonald) claimed he was a well-known musician and ex-Pat living in Arizona. Still, none of this is important, the next email from him was just unbelievable. I swear to you, there were insults, threats, language that would make a sailor blush and really no rationale for it at all. My response to him was to ignore this guy – he was freaky. Fast forward a couple of months and Dan Black is promoting Borderline on the forums and this guy enters an email exchange with him that is just an outright hail of abuse directed in my direction. Dan forwarded it all on to the editorial team and we all looked at it with disbelief – you would have thought I’d raped this guy’s wife and children, killed his mother, eaten her limbs, worn her fallopian tubes as ear rings and shot his dog – when, all I could work out was, all I’d done to the guy was posted onto an Internet forum, answered his question and plugged my free magazine.
Like I would have taken any notice of someone I’ve never heard of, popping up and giving me advice, anyhow – especially when I’ve ignored the advice of experts!
This guy was one of the two people who sent emails of abuse when I announced I was going to write this; the upshot of his message was “make sure you tell everyone what a cunt you are!” and he, if he is indeed a real person and not the figment of someone’s imagination, made me realise that I am not spotless throughout all of this, I was a willing participant for many years, despite the hardship I had and the arsehole I worked for.
I tried to change it. It is documented in Comics International, Borderline and the letters pages of various other magazines across the world. Despite my pit bull reputation, I’m actually a bit of a sensitive guy; I don’t really like upsetting people, despite the fact I’ve done it periodically and had little or no remorse. I've written for years about the Internet; it is something that I find bedazzling at times - just the fact that it didn't exist when I was an adult and now it literally runs the world, while simultaneously being a completely different world itself. I suppose it's evolution in a way. The Internet has also allowed me to be just as bad as the people I slag off. I've used it for nefarious purposes; I've hidden behind other people, but I've never hidden behind pseudonyms - if I have something to say I don't care how much of an arse it makes me look; so it has always hurt me when I've been accused of being other people; fake names are something other people I've known do. There's enough shit emanated from my keyboard, under my name, in the past to back this claim up, 100%.
But that doesn't excuse the fact that I have entered into confrontations, like an angry pit-bull and used language that I wouldn't use in real life. One of my closest friends in comics once said to me that he hated seeing my name on the boards and forums. It filled him with dread, because he reckoned that every time I knee jerked I became as bad as the person I least wanted to be like, but in a different, slightly mad way and that was in many ways worse.
I am a fool that suffers fools lightly.
I have done some pretty crappy things during my time in comics. I uncovered a news story about the former organiser of the Comics Festivals which showed that he was both corrupt and a thief; but comics fans decided that I was in the wrong for exposing this fact. As I mentioned in passing, I fell out with Warren Ellis; the thing I said to him that was so heinous was a direct attack at him in the days after his father had died; it was a low, cowardly and shitty thing to do; but it was a retaliation, a kneejerk, that was prompted by some hurtful things said about me.
However, you could argue that my argument is a load of bollocks and that I'm just saying that to try and excuse myself for some of the incredibly hurtful and disgusting things I have said on certain forums. The truth of the matter is if I go off the deep end I say shit that I should (and probably was, at the time) ashamed and embarrassed about.
Recently, while going through the blog's stats, I followed a link to someone I had a run in while working on my Eat Shit and Die column for the Comics Village. When you read some of my comments out of context (or even in context) they are appalling. I attacked a couple of women with some harsh and pretty vile language. I sat here and thought, 'Jesus Christ, with evidence like that existing on the Internet, a lot of people are going to take what I say with a pinch of salt and probably justifiably reckon I got what I ultimately deserved.'
Then I followed the link back further, to the entire conversation that took place in the comments section after an article by Rick Sharer. Now, there isn't really justification for some of the unfounded accusations and attacks I made on two particular women readers, but if you analyse the entire thread you can at least see why someone would jump off the deep end.
Comics columns are written on the Internet with probably the main reason being to get feedback and stimulate debate - after all, the Internet allows instantaneous reaction and what's the point of having columns with comments if you don't want to hear the opinions of others? Rick's column, if I recall correctly, was one of his Dave Sim appreciation pieces and as briefly mentioned elsewhere, Dave Sim has become a controversial figure in comics through his eccentric views, strange life choices and outspoken opinions - he polarises people. He is Marmite man. Rick is an acolyte, his two detractors in the comments section would have gladly worn Sim's testicles as necklaces.
Both women's comments were direct verbal assaults on Rick, his opinions and the person he was writing about. They were forthright, mildly offensive and frankly slightly over the top. Both women guilty of making personal attacks on Rick rather than being analytical and because Rick has always been very supportive of my work, I felt these people needed to know what it was like to be side-swiped, to be attacked for no other reason than because they can. It maybe never came across like that and subsequently as I have said, standalone comments show me to be a misogynistic pig and a few of the other things I have been accused of, but in many ways what these people did to Rick was just as bad.
Things were made worse, of course, because I offered to slap one of the women because her opinions weren't based on fact, they were based on her dislike of Rick's opinions, but again all I was trying to point out was that it didn't matter who you are if you are offensive to people then you deserve to get slapped - literally or metaphorically.
The sad fact is that while that and a couple of other Internet meltdowns do not make pleasant reading, I don't really care now because my life is so much more enjoyable without having to stop myself from going apoplectic at some moron with their ridiculous opinions every time i open a comics forum or page whenever I go on line. If people want to remember me, they can remember me however they please.
My life at Quality Communications Limited – Dez Skinn’s company – was filled with great times; I did indeed get paid for working in my hobby and I was the envy of many people in the industry. With hindsight, I would loved for the people who were jealous of me; who tried to get my job (remember doing that, Fabio?) when I was there and said some pretty horrible things about me, so they could possibly replace me. They should have suffered the shit I had to; but ultimately it was me who did and I chose to. Working there made me quite bitter about things because I did so much for Skinn, his magazine and the comics industry, but got royally butt-fucked by it all on numerous occasions.
I mentioned briefly during the previous instalments that Comics International was eventually sold. The main details I do not have, but I do know that Dez Skinn sold it to a company called Cosmic Publishing and that Mike Conroy took over as the head honcho and then successful destroyed the magazine because he had zero idea, after all those years of working with an expert, how to run one. CI managed less than a half a dozen issues once Dez exited, stage left. Most of them were poorly produced, very late and pissed off what few advertisers there were left. Conroy then tried to make amends by releasing something called Multiverse, which was, (from what I've heard, I haven't seen nor do I want to see a copy) a big pile of stale tripe.
I am also aware that several former employees of Dez Skinn no longer are on speaking terms with him. Now, back in my day, Dez used to talk about the previous employees who shafted him, these include Win Wiacek, David Akinsenya and Gary Lawford - all of which are no longer friends or even on speaking terms with the man; yet he's never at fault. Win stole from him. David wasn't a good journalist. Gary betrayed him. I fucked him over on countless occasions. Kerry betrayed him. Either he wasn't a good judge of character, or he did something to cause this grief. I know what I think. Recently, Loriann and I reconnected; she doesn't have anything to do with Dez either; I'm not interested in the reasons, it just seems to prove a point. People grow to dislike him; it has nothing to do with jealousy, but more to do with the fact that you're working for a child; one who is as predictable as a fox in a chicken coop.
In the years that have passed since writing the majority of this tome, I have found it tough to keep away from comics. I wrote a column for 18 months for The Comics Village called Eat Shit and Die. I'd like to think that some of the stuff I did on there was better than anything I've ever contributed to comics; despite the fact that it was essentially me calling comics fans a bunch of sad pathetic wankers. The thing was, it started off like that, but eventually swung into damning with faint praise and then defending it because of the illogical way comics have been portrayed in the 'real world'. It was the forerunner to this book in real time, but I think I ended up expressing a lot of what's said in this book in that column.
I also had a brief flirtation with my old life when I discovered that I owned the conceptual rights to the columns I wrote for Comics International; this resulted in me writing a Movers & Shakers column for a while. It was here that I uncovered two massive stories which didn't have the impact that you would have expected. Uncovering fraud and embezzlement perpetrated by one of comics' best known names had me being attacked for exposing the fact that a well known organiser had stolen money; while the man responsible for the theft must have been watching and thinking that he'd woken up on Earth X. When he admitted his culpability, the hordes witnessing this amazing story develop, threw their weight behind the criminal and shot the messenger.
The other information was that the venerable Eagle Awards; the much respected UK comics awards, were actually fixed and regardless of how many votes were cast, a huge percentage of winners were already decided; this fell the other side of the stool and barely anyone was the remotest bit interested. It made me realise that comics had returned to being what they had once been - a cottage industry. If trade news and internal affairs are not deemed worthy of coverage by the comics press then there is no point reporting on it!
Someone asked me last week if I'd included X in my story and I hadn't. My reaction was that certain things and anecdotes would get lost, the bloody thing is already complicated, jumbled up and to add further wrinkles to the story would only make it impenetrable.
Take Movers & Shakers, probably the thing I'm the proudest of in all my time in comics - yes, even prouder than Borderline. Mainly because Movers got me to a point that wouldn't have happened had there not been a Movers.
The column had very rocky foundations; it was essentially a marketing column that needed a bit of gossip to make it more interesting than watching paint dry [a few years after creating Movers, I re-created a column for CI called Comics Economics - the name had existed prior to my handling it, but the content was considerably different. It studied, in facts, the state of the industry from an economic point of view; where Movers was quirky, this column was as dry as a dinosaur bone]. At the time I was about to submit my first column, a friend of mine in the industry told me about a friend of his who was fast becoming a big name in comics. My friend's friend had a new girlfriend, one that meant a lot to him, as long as he got her home for 9pm every week night so she could get up for school the next day. Being somewhat journalistically mischievous, I included this 'snippet' in and Dez loved it so much he promoted its position within the copy. Of course it raised the bar; I needed to come up with something every 28 days that fulfilled the 'gossip column' criteria.
There were times when some of my mischief almost landed me or the magazine in trouble. like the time I suggested that long time Marvel writer Peter David - a friend of the magazine - regarded the artist he was working with on The Hulk as looking like a horse (Dale Keown did indeed look like an equine, but David never said it) or various DC news stories throughout the mid 1990s which led DC's Patty Jeres to comment to me at one convention, "We look forward to your column every month to see what we're doing and then we don't do it!"
If ever Dez got a bee in his bonnet about some of the spurious bullshit we used to run, I'd blame someone else for the story and then um and arr about revealing sources and how the person who told me was usually reliable, so my guess would be that there is more to this story - you know 'thou doth protest too much' kind of thing. My little 'fart bombs' were sometimes really harmful, but in general they were the little light relief I got from the relentless shit I had to take at times.
If I revealed to the world that a (fictitious) Californian computer company had developed software that allows anyone to draw like Jack Kirby, thus making comics creating accessible to everybody who owns a PC; I'd get a laugh. Ironically, as I might have alluded to in the main body of this, a load of the made up bullshit stories ended up coming true. One of the most notable was digitised comics; before you could download comicbooks, I put a space filler about software which would allow you to digitise your entire comics collection and read them off of a set of floppy discs!
I might have suggested throughout the book that at times people associated to British comics journalism were often maligned, especially by bullish Yanks. One high profile writer/artist in the late 1990s replied to my introductory email to him with, "Give me one good reason why I'd want to talk to a shitmongerer like you?" One of my contacts needed to assure this one time Superman writer/artist that I could be spoken to and was actually quite ethical.
Superman/Paul Sasseinie; Alan Moore/Swamp Thing: stories that change as the years pass...
I wrote the above as a note to myself, but it perfectly illustrates what I'm about to tell you. Who knows what is right.
Apocryphal story 1: Sasseinie is an ex-retailer and comics historian who was friends with DC's Mike Carlin, the then-editor of the Superman family of titles. The two of them were having dinner at a restaurant and Carlin was bemoaning the fact they needed to do something BIG with Superman. For a joke, Sasseinie suggested they do an old Silver Age trick and kill off the hero. The two chewed over the idea and nothing was said of it again.
Six months later, DC announced the Death of Superman.
A couple of months after this news came the story that it was an idea of Dan Jurgens - the then-chief Superman creator.
Several years later, when DC had their 75 years documentary made, the story seemed to suggest that it was a decision by committee.
Perhaps in ten years or so, it'll have been Dez Skinn's idea?
Apocryphal story 2: Before I got back into comics, I was hanging around the Northampton music scene, which had seen Bauhaus become huge a few years earlier and fancied itself as a hotbed of musical ability, like it's viewed now as a hive of potential comics creators.
My old and good friend Mitch Jenkins - a photographer and currently co-conspirator with Alan Moore on a number of projects - was having his first exhibition. I was helping him move frames and equipment from his village cottage at the time, when I saw a stack of Alan's Swamp Thing comics. Obviously, I was intrigued, especially as Swamp Thing played such a key role in my life and we got talking about it. He told me Alan would be at the opening of the exhibition and that proved to be the first time I met Moore.
The meeting didn't go particularly well. Not enamoured by what I'd read, after introductions, I said that I'd been reading his Swamp Thing comic. "What do you think?" He asked, and my reply was short and succinct. "Well, it's not really Swamp Thing is it?"
But that's an aside. I was more intrigued as to how the guy who once produced a newspaper strip called Maxwell the Magic Cat under the pseudonym of Jill DeVray had ended up writing the comic I'd been smitten by; so I asked him. He told me that he'd heard from various people that Swamp Thing was on the verge of cancellation, so he decided to contact DC and offered to turn the comic into a hit or they needn't pay him. I'm paraphrasing badly, but he said that he showed DC that they had nothing to lose, so they took the gamble and it paid off, with the title winning awards and sales going higher than they had ever been before.
The same DC 75th anniversary film has Karen Berger - a long-standing DC editor and the woman behind Vertigo - claiming it was all her idea and to back this up they had archive footage of a rather hyper Moore corroborating the story...
Retailing: during the few good months before things went tits up at Squonk!! Brian and I decided to try and do something pretty much fatal when you haven't got steady foundations - we looked into opening a 2nd shop.
The place we were considering was Rugby - Station Terrace - in a shop that was better than the one in Wellingborough, but was also far too open plan, with a massive window that was actually part of the shop floor. We figured with the amount of stock we had, we could rotate everything around and one of us could run each shop. Brian thought if I launched the Rugby shop, he could take it over after a few months and I could return to shop #1. I sometimes think he only wanted to get a shop in Rugby because it was amenable to a pub that sold really good Thai food in a village called Walcote.
The thing is it really is one of the worst things you can do - double your overheads. You can almost convince yourself that it's a practical and good idea; you can paint it so you can convince a bank manager that it will float despite all the unseen holes in it. We got to within a hair's breadth of signing the papers and getting shop fitters in and getting ourselves into another £10k of debt. With hindsight, we perhaps should have done it, but I'm glad we didn't. I think Rugby could have handled a comic shop. The place we looked at became Hope's a big, independent ... newsagent!
I'd just like to point out that Lou Bank has never ever worn Armani.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dez_Skinn is a great work of fiction and borderline libel. There was (and possibly has been reinstated) a section of Skinn's Wikipedia entry that pertains to Comics International. This section featured about a dozen lines suggesting that I have perpetrated a hate campaign against him since 2001 and that information I've given has been factually inaccurate. He claims that my mother died in 1996 and he didn't fire me because I couldn't be fired because I was a freelancer. I would love to test this theory in a court of law...
You have to admire the audacity of the man, at times and his ego for writing his own Wikipedia entry (at least someone else wrote mine and that is an interesting story in itself: in 2005, around the time I was writing this, a Phil Hall wiki entry appeared and it was really quite nasty. I wish I still had what it said, but it basically accused me of lots of things and had one of those editorial warning signs on it when it was pointed out to me. A friend rewrote it completely and even though I was really tempted to go and clean it up, I left it alone).
Skinn has walked around rewriting history for the last 30 years about anyone who has fallen out or foul with him. I don't know if its delusion (probably) or some other mental health problem, but I do know that certain pros in comics have grown to understand that Skinn's recollection of events is often diametrically opposite of their own. It begs just the one question - is he that perfect that everybody who has ever said anything even remotely detrimental about him must be lying?
At some point in the mid 1990s, Skinn had decided that he needed to sell off all the thousands of comics he'd accumulated. These included most of the freebies I received; lots of stock that failed retailers dumped on him when they went out of business and the stuff he kept without much value - runs of Ms Marvel, Rom, and stacks of Archie books.
He asked me if I wanted to go to Birmingham with him and bring Mammary Lass to help sell them, but I was busy, which incidentally angered him. I mentioned to Luan about it and she said she'd do it for the money. She called Dez and they agreed that Luan and the Hippie (from the upstairs shop in Squonk!!) would be Dez's salesmen for the weekend. This included hotel rooms and some food as well as a flat fee for the weekend. The intention was to sell everything and have a party on the proceeds, however by the end of the first day things were not going according to plan for Skinn.
He was confident that he could easily take over £1000, but by the end of the first day, they'd taken less than £100 and Luan and Hippie were bored. Dez had fallen foul of one of his homespun bits of retailing advice; it didn't matter how cheap his comics were, if they were a load of shit then no one will want to buy them. Dez was also gradually getting into a really bad mood; none of his plans were working out. He had hoped to tempt Luan into coming to this two-day fantasy thing because he wanted to get into her knickers - he had made no secret of it and refused to believe that I'd never 'been there'. Dez liked easy women and he perceived Mammary Lass as easy because she had no problem showing some cleavage. The truth was that Luan was very choosy about whom she had sex with and Dez wouldn't have even made it onto her radar.
Luan had told him straight after the first day of trading; she was not interested in him and she and the Hippie then got Dez to pay for food and drink all evening, which was supposed to have come out of the takings but was coming out of his pocket instead. He also pulled the same stunt with them as he did with me at Bristol. He only booked two rooms; a single and a double and he intended to be sleeping in the double room. He did. Luan and the Hippie, who were doing heaps of drugs by this time of the night, shared the single room, leaving Dez to contemplate his navel in a big bed, all on his own. He had been that presumptuous, he believed that just by asking Luan, or rather offering her his double bed that she was going to give my boss sex. Even in his 40s, Mr Chauvinist needed to learn a lot about the human race.
As usual, the next day it was like nothing had happened. Dez erased the previous 24 hours out of his head, rewrote it with a far more PC version and got on with his life. The second day was as bad as the first and they end up taking about £180 all weekend. Dez sold what was left to another dealer for £30 - 3000 comics worth at least 10p each and in the end, he was so desperate to get rid of them he got 1p for every four comics sold. The hotel bills alone cost him more than he took. Before they parted company, he tried to explain that he'd made no money so he couldn't pay them, but the hippie pointed out that they were employed for a flat fee; that is what Dez had said: £50 each for the weekend, plus bonuses if all the comics got sold. Dez tried to protest, but the hippie pointed out that not only did Dez owe them £50 each, he owed both of them an extra £20 each because he had agreed a 10% of total takings if he didn't have to drive back to London with any comics.
Dez protested, but the Hippie and Luan just held out for their rightful money and Dez had to pay it because they were friends of mine and that meant if he didn't pay it would look even worse. So Dez got more money from the hole in the wall, paid my friends and went back to Finchley with his tail between his legs. He never mentioned the entire weekend to me once when I went down to work the following week and even when I mentioned it, Dez seemed to be more critical of the organiser than anything else. I, of course, knew what had happened (I knew by 7pm on the Sunday night!), but I didn't let on. I had, by this time, worked out that it was best not to do or say anything that might attract his attention. He usually didn't care who he took his anger out on, just so long as he could.
I'm feeling benevolent; it must be old age. Not all nerds are creepy - most of them are weird, but harmless. Some of them I don't even feel should be ridiculed for their fanatical obsessions; their desire to dress up in costumes or learn a fictional language. There are people out there for whom comics are their life. Be it through illness, disability or mental health problems, comics give them an outlet to express themselves and feel happy.
I might be the first person to make derogatory comments about the uber-nerds at conventions, but if you look at photos of them - they never, ever look like they are there under duress. They are being themselves in an environment that makes them ecstatic and good luck to them.
I've repeated myself a lot throughout this book, hopefully to emphasise points that I felt needed embellishment; but I will say that without a lot of the people I've directly or indirectly ridiculed during this book, without them I wouldn't have had such an ultimately interesting life in comics.