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Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Thorny Subject-?

A couple people have said that it "must" be a "bit of a come down" to have to set up business at Small Press events.

I'll not apologise if I was a little brusque in my response.  Read "About" at the top of this page for goodness sakes!

There is no real comic industry -well, there isn't one- in the UK.  I started out doing small press comics then writing a drawing comics for a living.  The industry as it was back in the 1980s/early 1990s was on its last legs. I have no interest in discussing why. Anyone with the slightest knowledge knows why it was dying. All I will say is that if you have publishers who just really cannot be bothered anymore and incompetent editorial staff then...

Back in the old days -you kids who were not born until 1988 or later will have no idea- Gestetners were used to produce early fanzines and some well known comic creators got into comics that way.  The Small Press -which in 1982 I started calling "zines" because the genres covered and types of publication were so varied- was a "seat of your pants" affair.  Cut and paste -kids, I mean "cut" literally with a pair of scissors and paste down with Gloy Glue (until the goddess Pritt Stick appeared!) onto paper after typing up was just part of it.  Photocopying was still a bit pricey -5p per copy was 1/- for goodness sake (look it up). In the days of the C30, C45, C60 and C90 tapes (go listen to Bow Wow Wow and  "c30 c60 c90 go") zinesters were the Ninja Shadow Warriors.

Right. Yes, I may have over-hyped zinesters a little there but there used to be a campaign: "Watch Out. There's A Thief About!" and that could have easily been changed to "Watch Out! There's A Zinester About!"

You see, first trick of the game was to learn where the office photocopier was or the copier room/cupboard. There then followed days of surveillance as you noted who used the copier.  Whether people had a regular schedule for copying.  When the copier engineer turned up to change the toner and so on.

In your rather dilapidated little bed-sit (or bedroom at home) you would have maps, charts, photographs, marker pins all on display on the wall.  You would sit back.  Slurp a mouthful of cold or tepid coffee.  Maybe wave away the smoke if you were a smoker.  The sunlight cutting shafts of light through the blinds over the windows would give you just the right amount to see by.  A bite of a stale sandwich or doughnut.  At the important moment your eyes would decisively narrow into slits as you clenched the back of the rickety old char you were sat on.  "It's tomorrow.  I go in tomorrow."

Or maybe I'm thinking of the TV series Private Eye with Alfred Burke ( )?  That's him below...

Anyhow, unless you were palsy -that's "palsy" -friends and not "Palsy" which is a medical condition. I am getting so old I keep losing threads...and that jacket does need sewing.  That reminds me of my stint in the Army and the Falklands campaign.

We'd worked our way into the jungles of the Falklands and hiding from an Argentinean plane, Brigadier Jeff Chandler was on the radio telling Margaret Thatcher that keeping his 3,000  jungle fighters hidden from the enemy for 200 miles was "driving me nuts". Basically we made it to the jungle swamps but were spotted and the main column was soon under artillery  fire. Lt. Chalky Stock's platoon  take out the artillery battery mainly due to platoon sniper "Bullseye" who shot their commander and we destroyed the emplacement with covering fire and hand grenades
Chalky Stock reported to the fatherly Chandler that...wait a minute.  Were the Argentineans Japanese-like? And Claude Akins....why was Jeff Chandler a Brigadier in the British Army in the 1980s -he died in 1961!

Ah, I'm thinking of the movie Merrill's Marauders, arent I?

Yeah, that wasn't the Falklands War.

Right, so, if you were matey  with the boss (Matey was a very popular kids bubble bath back in the day) and he let you do a "bit" of copying then it had to be all done by stealth. "Oh, I'll tidy up the place after work, boss. No problemo!" (in like Flynn -which was a  Copying. Look over shoulder.  Copy. Look over shoulder.  Copy.  "OH MY GOD -IS THAT HIM COMING BACK? No." Copy and so on. Pages askew, poor quality since the copier was used as toner was running out.  Hey, never use the copier when the toner has just been put in!  Boss: "What?! The toner was only changed yesterday and it looks like its run out! Why does the copy counter read 2345?"   And that was the other high-tech piece of espionage you learnt early on -tampering with the copies counter.

The thing was to always -always- remain calm and keep a clear head if the boss did walk back in. Otherwise things could get a wee bit out of hand...

Because if you lost it then you'd realise just how bad things are and how stupid you were and the consequences -NO ACCESS TO A PHOTOCOPIER!

And, uh, yes, the quality of paper used to copy on.  Some of it like kitchen towel -well, you grabbed what you could and there was one person of my acquaintance (he did NOT commit murder) who photocopied onto brown wrapping paper, a tissue-tracing paper "stuff" and...well, he used to staple zines together on his knee.  Owch.

uhhh, I can't remember what this was all about?

Anyway, whether for music zines, comic zines, fan zines, poetry zines -small pressers used to use quite clever design techniques as well as packaging.  Spray painted acetate covers, home-embossed -the creativity was boundless.  

A lot of creators tried to draw their comic zines à la the Americans but a lot tried to get more creative in page design. Open panels, panels laid out diagonally with a full page image in the background, Panels laid out in a big "X" formation.  Use of water colours to tone, not to forget home-made spray effects.  These were all things that you were not really allowed to do in a mainstream comic.  Today some creators have tried the unusual panel layouts and people go "Wow!" "Amazing!" "That is so cool and original!"  No. We were doing that thirty years ago.

With the passing of the UK comics industry and the birth of print-on-demand, home publishing via your computer-printer and so on "comics" have changed a lot.  Don't get me wrong, the UK could still have a strong mainstream comic publishing industry but it needs to have someone with the finances and the faith to back projects.  The one thing I've learnt from attending small press events is that 99% of the creators and visitors know absolutely nothing about comics!  Stan Lee is a character from The Big Bang Theory TV show!  "Jack Kirby -does he do that zine with---?"  "Oh, The Avengers is based on a comic?

Even programmes people watch like The Walking Dead (yes, I know the Big Bang Theory is watched!) or Arrow these new kids have no idea are based on comic books.  Some of them, say 90%, will lose interest in the small press in a year or two. But it is interesting to see what they come up with.  Much of the 'originality' harkens back to the 1980s/1990s -but they do not know that!

And, yes, maybe 75% of them cannot draw but they do and they do it because they are having fun.  When I did zine reviews for Comics World"back in the day" (I gave up when they stopped 'forgetting' to send my payments) the best review I ever gave was to a zine, and I wish I could remember what it was called, that was badly drawn and written but you could feel that the creator didn't really care -the book just exuded FUN!

Just like Punk Rock (my record "****!  ****!  ****! **** You!" is best forgotten like my wrestling career), where you never really had to be a musician or singer -you relied on total and utter energy and having a good time- so small pressers create for fun.  They are accountants, teachers, school cooks, international assassins, teachers, students and it's all just a fun hobby.  And, yes, I get odd looks when I refer to my books as "stock"!

I never had a big ego.  I never thought I was some big star. I wrote and drew comics for a living.  Some people in comics today seriously have major issues ego and talent-wise.  Brown-nosing keeps them in work, though.  The UK has never really accepted my enormous talent -whereas outside the UK I get more recognition. Initially I got frustrated "Why aren't they trying to pitch their books to punters? They'll never earn money just talking and drinking coffee!"  

But then my Shaolin comic mentor explained to me that I needed to be "like the pebbles on the beach.  Accept that some times the sea will caress them but at other times it will roll like thunder into them" and "Even the strongest buck grass must bend before the wind.  Accept the wind.  Do not try to imprison the wind.  Let the wind out" and that taught me a lot.

No, it is not a come down to have a table at a small press event.  I never get invited to UK comic conventions (though I have an open invitation from one organiser).  Pity but that's how it goes -same old guests from one event to another and that includes traders, which sort of makes you wonder about this bidding for a table at has to be rigged.

So, as long as I get to see interesting things, talk to interesting creators and sell books I am happy.  Better than some of the back-stabbers out there in 'the industry' today.

I eat dead pigeons and sewer rats can't you tell from the way I act I'm born from the blood of Spring-heeled Jack?

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