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.


  1. A final, final comment. I noticed that the entire MMC had been reviewed by TimTrue (presumably Pilcher) on his blog. It wasn't a good review; well, it was very well written, it just wasn't very complimentary. But that's fine and the majority of the criticisms were totally justified. No one likes a bad review, but at least I could completely understand where Tim was coming from and I believe it's probably the fairest review I've read.
    The only thing that upset me about it was the fact that he didn't seem to recognise the fact that I had recognised all of his criticisms at some point. This might have happened during the 6 extra portions or in some minor edits I made after the Kindle version had been released; but I acknowledged a lot of the things he didn't like about it.
    I suppose, I did the Kindle version more because of the encouragement of friends and family rather than my desire to vanity publish something I was happy just to serialise in a blog and I have, over the last year or so, realised that I won't be doing that again in a hurry. I was really lucky to have worked in a field where I wrote lots, but for all the improvements I've made to myself and my writing in the last ten years; I'm just lazy, ill-disciplined and my faults massively outweigh my abilities. Tim's review made the belief a reality, because he is good at what he does; he worked hard to get where he was and I spent all the time I should have been working, whining about all the injustices I was dealt.
    Still, we live and learn.

  2. Aww, Phil, I feel bad now.

    But I would say that if you addressed all my criticisms in the book (which I think you probably did) why didn't you do something about them, and get someone to do a good hard edit on it? Writers are always too close to their own work to judge (myself included) and you need an unattached editor to come at your work with cold eyes.

    Keep up the writing but I'd try and steer clear of the self-analysis in public from now on. Work it through in other ways. Hope you've put the weed to rest now. While I have nothing against it personally (I've managed to write three books on the subject) I find it's a great debilitation for writers and motivation. The only exception I can think of is Alan Moore, otherwise most people sit on their arses all day thinking "what if?" without actually doing anything. Seen it happen to loads of people.

    And I am, by no means perfect, and I still vacillate far too much with the best of them. Still, as you say, live and learn - and hopefully we've both still got a lot of both to do yet!

  3. The irony, Tim, is that I have a perfectly better version of the tome, on my PC, edited by my old friend Dave Brzecki, which through a combination of laziness and not enough hours in the day has remained on my PC and gone nowhere else. All of the points you make, I, of course, knew anyhow and abide by them, at times. But I'm an impulsive old git - which was probably the main reason for some of Dez's frustrations with me - and have a minor reputation for producing texts that do nothing to enhance any reputation I might have or had.
    Oh and I completely agree with you about the title of the 'book'; I had called it boringly The Comic Book Diaries - A Personal History; but one night down the pub, my wife made the joke about periods, the fact that CI came out 13 times a year and that comics were largely a monthly thing. I've never really liked the title, tbh, but it has an ironic truth about it.
    To answer your other question... If I was an alcoholic, I've switched from whiskey to weak beer. I've also realised that I'm a recreational writer rather than a serious (or ambitious) one and apart from my blog, the majority of my writing has reverted to fiction and I've no allusions about that.
    It is my intention, despite what has been inferred in the recent Extra Portions bit, to never darken comics tainted door ever again. MMC was supposed to be cathartic, but as I said (in the main body of the above) it didn't work out that way entirely. If I never see my name in print again or associated with comics, it will still be too soon.
    Anyhow, take care and don't feel bad, I really am my own worst enemy :)