Walking through the main display hall at Thought Bubble on Saturday afternoon, on a bit of a downer, I saw a face from my past and made a bee-line to him (a straight line would have been quicker but I had to dodge out of the way of a packed hall full of people in costumes).
The last time I'd seen Marc Laming in the flesh was about 12 years ago, in an Indian restaurant with my wife and Martin Shipp discussing Borderline Magazine. Marc was just on the verge of a big professional comics career with DC, Image and others, but was a very useful 'consultant' in those early days. I respect Marc's words and frankly we haven't seen enough of each other (and continued that trend later that evening). The first words, before we even shook hands, out of his mouth were, "Why the f**k did you do it?"
Marc looked at me and shook his head, shook my hand and said, "What good did you seriously think being interviewed by that **** was going to achieve." I breathed an almost visible and probably audible sigh of relief - he was not questioning my decision to go into publishing, he was berating me for the interview with Richard Johnston over on Bleeding Cool.
Rewind a couple of weeks and my editorial team's unanimous prediction - Hatchet Job - of what the BC interview would mainly entail. It is known, among some people, that I have as much a chequered past as I have a critically successful one and while I covered most of my experiences both noble and ignoble in this actual blog, there were moments I chose or didn't deem worthy of talking about (or weren't really that relevant). RJ had one of these moments and smiled gleefully while wringing his hands with delight that he had examples to use.
I knew that the interview would have some focus on me, I had hoped that after over 20 years in the industry Johnston would have learned something about being a journalist, but he probably worships at the idol of Murdock and prays he can hack some peoples' phones or talk about Miley Cyrus upskirt shots with all the other grubby insects that think they're doing the world a service. So, despite my best efforts to say this was not about me but about the great stuff Borderline Press has lined up; he kept trying to ask whether the people I was working with were aware that I was a raging psychopath?
Actually, just to go some ways to showing you how affected I have been by this, thankfully, low-profile piece of arse-squeezings, the thing that annoyed me the most was Johnston suggesting that I had been hassling him to do the interview. This was right at the start and I was more than halfway through it and all I could think of was, "I wonder if he twists the truth to his wife and daughters?"
At the start of September, he sent me an email to a barely used address offering to interview me and promote the new venture. I replied and said, 'go for it' and he said, 'I'll prepare some questions and send them over tonight.'
October arrived and I looked in this almost defunct email account and saw that RJ had not replied that evening, nor had he got in touch at all. I sent him a cheeky little email, more of a joke than a prompt, saying, 'Tonight, eh?' and left it at that. He promised some questions, they never turned up and then when 566 Frames came out, me and t'team were discussing PR moves and Danny suggested doing an interview with me to put up on the site - it wasn't going to attract more people but it put more up there to look at when people did go there. One thing led to another and Danny offered Bleeding Cool the interview and Johnston decided that now was a good time to get his cleaver out and start wielding it like a twat.
In fact, most of the bits in between my bits were written after the event - his comments, his reactions. The interview does at least spend about 30% of the time talking about Borderline Press, which I hoped was the news story and has been the news story just about everywhere else it has been.
Laming was disappointed with me that I should even give the man 'houseroom' because we all know that while he does have integrity when it suits him, he's actually just a very pernicious and bitter man who has failed to be a success at what he wanted to be and has forged an infamy that he will always be remembered and scorned for. It would be nice to think that his website could give some exposure to the great books we're bringing out - do its proper job - but as he still doesn't employ an editor to ensure there are no typos and grammatical errors what hope that he will actually do something worthy.
As you all know Zombre arrived in time for Thought Bubble. We also arrived with plenty of time for Thought Bubble. Will got there on Friday night, my brother Ron - helping us out - was there at 8am and I turned up a little after 8.30 having already been up for 3 hours and already feeling like the day was too long. We found the Allied London Hall, the late addition to the Thought Bubble arenas and very much a ... work in progress.
I was feeling cold and curmudgeonly and Will ordered me to go away and leave him to it and I duly obliged. I came back later, just before the event opened properly and we looked like a bunch of blokes who didn't want to be there and were less than impressed with our cold and decidedly dull surroundings. By noon and without seeing barely a punter pass our table, I went to the pub. It was in the pub that I updated the Facebook page and sat with a pint wondering why none of the literally thousands of people crammed into the two main halls were not even aware we were there in the third hall. I was feeling a little less than enamoured with the organisers when, less than halfway through my pint and obviously doing something on my laptop, a young helper came along and apologised profusely to me but asked me to move as they were going to do some portfolio reviews. The bar was packed and there were no more seats to go to, so I politely said I'd move up into the corner and wouldn't bother anyone, to which I got a slightly pleasing 'sorry, you'll have to move.', so I told her I'd move when I was ready and she stood five feet from me for the next seven minutes glaring at me until I decided that I felt unwelcome and went back to the table.
We'll breeze over the next few hours of which the encounter with Marc Laming was the highlight.
I spent some time talking to some of the Zombre creators, most of which were thoroughly brilliant people and by 5pm, I was tired, hungry and thoroughly miserable. If 200 people had come into the unfinished building site of a hall we were in we were lucky and we'd taken £45 all day. I got back to my hotel room and seriously wondered what the hell I was doing...
A lot of the weekend was irrelevant to Borderline Press and I'll talk about that in my own blog, but I should have gone to the Mid-Con party; I had my ticket and earlier in the day I'd made the decision to go along and try to schmooze a few people; I arranged to hook up with Marc Laming and ended up back in my hotel at 9pm. I felt bad about missing the party but I was shattered; ironically, I would not have been able to get in to the party because they had security problems and 200 people stood outside in freezing cold Leeds for over an hour before being told they couldn't come in. There was something of a shambolic pattern emerging about the entire event.
Day two arrived and I woke up feeling better and more positive about the day. It surely couldn't be any worse than the Saturday? Could it? My experience of cons in the 80s and 90s was that there was little money on a Sunday and less of it spent. I put on a brave face and feeling refreshed I approached the day, as Will did, with a braver face than we probably should have. By midday, we had taken £10 and the bar had run out of beer...
The dissenting voices from the dealers, traders and small press tables was growing all the time and at about 1pm while I was walking about, I saw a heated discussion between a couple of guys who were packing up their stock and one of the organisers, who was failing to pacify them. I heard from someone that the entire row or alley of tables had taken less than £100 between them (8 in a row) and it was like no one even knew they were there.
But for Borderline Press the tide was turning. In the space of an hour I did deals to get our books into 5 shops - OK Comics in Leeds and Travelling Man's four shops are all taking stock; a US small press distributor showed a great deal of interest and we're going to be talking; and something new and potentially exciting, also from the USA, came along, which I am going to be looking into getting involved in. Then people started to come over and buy the books...
I'm not going to suggest that we had a brilliant weekend in terms of takings. We probably just about broke even on the entire weekend and I did something, as a businessman I baulked at, but as someone trying to establish a business it was necessary. I gave away a few copies of the book to people I believed would help us, either through their own network of contacts, or simply because they like what they see. By 5pm, I was buzzing and kind of wished it could go on a bit longer. We'd done what we hoped to do on the Saturday and we started to become known - people came up and said they'd heard about us, some said they'd heard good things about us.
The surprising thing for some was that 566 Frames outsold Zombre, only marginally, but enough to make me feel bloody vindicated about publishing it. There have been some remarks made that perhaps Dennis's book was not the title to launch a company with; I think this time next year, 566 Frames could be up for an award. It also sold predominantly to women!
All in all, I think it has to be called a successful weekend despite not because of the event. We have optimism going to SWALC next weekend; I am meeting with the new colour printer this week and I have a meeting with Close Encounters' manager about a Borderline Press local launch in Northampton and maybe one at their Bedford store too! I think it would have been nice if more people had seen our books because on the evidence of the last 4 hours of the convention we would have sold a lot more, but...
Both Will and I came away with the feeling that next year we need to have more tables, more stock, more merchandise and be in the main hall - if we can pull that off..?