Thursday, 10 December 2015

Melchester in the Middle East

Well, I guess it's one of those obligatory blog openings that starts "I can't believe it's been 18 months since I posted anything here!" time certainly flies! 

I thought - with the current political climate in the Middle East, and arsehole terrorists trying to scare the world by murdering people - that I'd point out that, actually, not much has really changed over the last 30 years.

I came across this little gem while rummaging through local comic dealer and new chum, Lorne Brown's collection of stuff. It's Roy of the Rovers dated 12 July, 1986. Roy Race and Melchester Rovers find themselves hostages in the fictional country of Basran (presumably based on the city of Basra in Iraq). The SAS are sent in to rescue the team and the cover looks like they're desperately trying to appeal to the Battle readers, rather than football fans! And Battle stalwart - the recently departed John Cooper - drew this strip. Have a read...
(Please excuse my poor Photoshop skills!)
The shocking suicide bomber story at the end (remember this was a "kid's comic") had profound effect on the team with eight team members: Noel Baxter, Vic Guthrie, Carl Hunt, Neville Jones, Steven Naylor, Kenny Logan, Jimmy Slade and Trevor Cassidy all being killed. 

What I think is truly fascinating about this story is the braveness of British comics back then to tackle serious and difficult issues in a publication aimed at 8-12 year-olds. Plus, the fact that, despite our perceptions, the world is probably the same as it ever was: violent, with morons killing themselves and others. It's good to remember that when certain parties on all sides of the political/religious/social spectrum are utilising fear to control populations that we remain calm and not descend into knee-jerk reactions and lash out, only exacerbating the situation. After all, Melchester Rovers didn't subsequently bomb Basran. No, they rebuilt their team, beat Stambridge City in the League Cup, and dedicated the win to the lost players.

Obviously this all has interesting connotations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (if it ever happens).

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Hayley Campbell, Neil Gaiman and me. (Updated)

I first got to know Neil Gaiman back around 1988 when I was 19 and working in Comic Showcase in London. He was a regular sight on Thursday afternoons as the new comics turned up, along with many other creators. As I recounted in my memoir, Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tales of Sex, Drugs and Comics:

"The young journalist from the Today newspaper, Neil Gaiman, had moved on considerably, and his star was in the ascendant—having written the Violent Cases graphic novel and the DC Comics Black Orchid miniseries with Dave McKean (which “guest-starred” Garry, Dave and Fleetway’s then-PR guru, Igor Goldkind as the villain). Gaiman was now going great guns with The Sandman. Once a month Neil would pop in the shop to pick up the latest titles and very kindly leave me with the photocopies of the pencils for the forthcoming issues—of what would become one of his seminal works—while he browsed the shelves or caught up with fellow pros..."

Hayley Campbell first got to know Neil Gaiman back around 1992 when she was 6 and he came to stay with her family in Australia.

I can't remember exactly when I first met Hayley Campbell. It was a Christmas drink up in a West End pub with Garth Ennis, the aforementioned Garry Leach, Woodrow Phoenix and loads of other comics friends. My old mate Ed Hillyer introduced me to this raven antipodean giant, who was the daughter of his old pal, Eddie Campbell. She was ballsy, in your face, and just a little intimidating, but I liked her.

Ed Hiller (ILYA) and Hayley Campbell (Photo (c) Eddie Campbell)
Our paths criss-crossed over the years, as they do in the microscopic world of UK comics, and we met up every now and then for drinks and to perform a "double-act" of our talks: her on her dad's work on From Hell, and me on my own observations on "Sex and and the Superhero" at The Last Tuesday Society and The Catalyst Club in Brighton.

Actually, the more I think about it the weirder those links are. Hayley was born in Brighton, where I live. She has family here and in fact my kids used to play with her cousin (unbeknownst to me at the time).
Birth of Hayley Campbell from ALEC: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell

At the time I was working at Ilex Press and had just commissioned two successful biographies; The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy (which was nominated for an Eisner and won a Harvey Award), and the excellent Alan Moore: Storyteller by Gary Spencer-Millidge. The next obvious subject to approach was, of course, Neil. The problem was finding the right person to write it. I went through the list of Neil's old friends like Kim Newman, Roz Kaveney and many others, but everyone was either too busy, reluctant to do it or simply uncontactable.

Then our Managing Editor, Nick Jones, had a brainwave. He had worked with Hayley at Titan Books (again, those weird syncronicities) and knew that she was very close to Neil.

I checked out Ms. Campbell's very excellent blog and saw she had a natural talent for writing so proposed the book idea. She was reluctant as well, concerned of being too close to the subject matter (which is exactly why I wanted her in the first place). However after numerous phone conversations, emails and pints I managed to cajole her (with the apparent urging of Eddie) to say yes, and we set about putting together the sample spreads.

When the BLAD (Basic Layout And Design) document was completed and the book found a US publishing partner in Harper Collins I moved on to start up a line of stationery and left Hayley to get on with the book.

Of course, I'd done the easy bit. I left it in the very capable hands of Nick, editors, Ellie Wilson and Frank Gallaugher, and art director, Julie Weir. However, numerous stops, starts and stalls by far too many people to name here, meant that the book was delayed by a year... then another... then another! It seemed that there were always too many Neil projects coming out and the Harper Collins didn't want to compete with them!

Four years later(!) I'd left Ilex to work for Humanoids Inc, when this marvellous book dropped through my letterbox:

One of my very sad collection of newspaper clippings from over the past 25 years (Neil's article from the Today newspaper about Watchmen) even made it into the book (that's my handwriting in blue):

UPDATE: Lew Stringer pointed out to me that this clipping is actually his, from his website, which is spooky because a) We both have very similar handwriting b) He's a sad as me clipping newspapers like this, and c) I did actually scan my clipping of this and sent it to Ilex, but it obviously wasn't used!

It's crammed with so much amazing material and unseen sketches from famous comics artists, and mounds of fascinating anecdotes from the man himself. I think this is my favourite photo in the book, for  it's pure surrealness. It's Neil chatting with Leonard Nimoy, while Mickey Spillane cuddles Mickey Mouse!

Here's a quick video flick through the rest of the book, accompanied by Neil singing his "I Google You" song (which seemed appropriate somehow).


So, in some ways I am partly to blame for the book. But so are Nick, Ellie, Frank and Julie for keeping the project going over these long years. And, of course it's really Hayley's fault for having the tenacity, wit and writing chops to pull off a very difficult task with such verve. Not to mention Neil's culpability for being a writer and subject worthy of such a lovely tome.

We're all guilty as charged, Your Honour.

UPDATE: It's also been pointed out to me that there are two important people who also contributed to the book who didn't get nearly enough (or in one case, ANY) credit and they are Jennifer Eiss, who copyedited the book, and Martin Stiff who's company, Amazing15, did such a great job designing it. So they're both guilty as hell as well. See you in the exercise yard, guys.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Alan Moore Versus Grant Morrison...

Forget it! I ain't even going near that one!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Coming to a Festival Near You...! (UPDATED AGAIN!)

Hi Everybody!

Hope you are all well. Just a quick update on a few public appearances I'll be making in the next couple of months. Hopefully, by now, you'll all know about my Kickstarter project, Comic Book Babylon, and have pledged lots of money! Don't lie to me! I know only two visitors from this site have gone and done that. So thank you, you two. The rest of you, pull your finger out! But seriously, anything you can do to help is very much appreciated, even if it's just spreading the word to friends. It's now in its FINAL WEEK so be quick!

So, next couple of months are going to start getting hectic as we gear up for festival season! I'm doing two events at the Brighton Festival this year. The first is When Does a Comic Become a Graphic Novel? at the Dome Studio Theatre on Wednesday 15 May at 8pm. I'll be hosting a discussion with local graphic novelists Nye Wright and Hannah Berry, and Woodrow Phoenix, who's latest project, She Lives (see above), I raved about earlier. You'll get a chance to see the enormous book in all it's glory on the night. After the event there'll be several Laydeez Who Do Comics events in the bar until 10:30, so stick around. Should be a fun-filled evening!
Then, on Sunday 19th May at 6pm, I'll be at The Komedia, Brighton, on the panel game show of my mate, Dave Mounfield's new show, Best of Enemies, alongside Jo Neary and Guy Venables. Dave describes it as: 

“Let’s face it, nobody is perfect. Especially celebrities. But what if you could BUILD the perfect celebrity out of bits of various celebs and famous historical figures? What aspects of which famous folk would you choose and why? And what would they look like? And what would the perfectly AWFUL celebrity be like?!" 

This is the second night at the Komedia, and promises to be a lot of silly fun. Hopefully it'll get picked up for a TV series, so come along and say "I was there first!" All for just £5!! Bargain.

Finally, I'll be taking part as part of the Odditorium gang again this July. Last year Dr David Bramwell, Sarah Angliss, Colin Uttley, Ross Gurney Randall, Sue Bradley and I went down to the Port Eliot Festival and performed a series of talks, lectures, chats and events. It went down so well, we're doing it all again this year, only at The Secret Garden Party on 25-28 July. Expect all sorts of silliness, freaky facts, and bizarre stories (all true) featuring Herman Goering, Nuclear Bunkers, Rabbits, Sexy Superheroes, and Ghost Trains (not necessarily in that order). All the cheap tickets have now sold out, but if you drop me a line, we maybe able to get you some good bargains! Wink wink.

So, plenty to keep you busy, there! And if you do manage to pop in, do say hello and that you saw this on my blog, as it's always nice to meet my readers!

Apparently, due to some hoo-haa, The Critical Incident has been postponed until September, in an alternative venue. I'll still be doing my talk, only it will be better! News, as it happens...

I've also just agreed to take part in Paul Levy's Critical Incident on Sunday 26 May at the EmporiumThis year's theme is "Alone Together" and I'll be giving a talk entitled: Without You I’m Nothing: How Crowdfunding is Changing Culture at midday. It will look at how individuals are the new philanthropists and arts patrons, and how traditional, large media corporations are running scared. It will touch on my own experiences with crowdfunding and how the "Long Tail" has matured into a viable business practice. It'll be a facinating day of workshops talks and interactive sessions and always raises as many questions as it answers.

Ciao for now!


Monday, 1 April 2013

Tripwire 2013

But enough about me and my Kickstarter project. Let's talk about a more imminent one that's only got 12 days left and hasn't made the halfway mark yet. Joel Meadow's Tripwire 21st Anniversary book is an incredible collection of "The best of..." including Frank Miller, Guillermo Del Toro, Mike Mignola, Joss Whedon, and the late Joe Kubert and Will Eisner. But it also has a huge amount of new material from practically every big name in the comic book industry: Drew Struzan, Mike Mignola, Phil Hale, Howard Chaykin,Frank Quitely, Walter Simonson, Dave Taylor and more!

Tripwire remains an important comics and related media magazine. Back when I started working at DC/Vertigo UK, editor/publisher, Joel was one of the first to interview Art Young and I about our forthcoming plans. The interview was harsh, but fair, and Tripwire earned a reputation for being quite antagonistic. It made Joel quite a few enemies, but to my mind that can only be a good thing. He published columns by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, pissed off Peter Milligan and Alan Moore. Warren Ellis still won't talk to him. So that alone has got to whet your appetite to find out why? What has Tripwire revealed and discovered over the past two decades to ruffle so many feathers? The answers are only in The Tripwire 21st Anniversary book!

It's up to you to get your money out your pocket and pledge to make it happen. If you don't Joel will have to resort to selling his lilly-white ass in Soho again. So please, donate heavily (I have) and save Joel from a life on the game. Because no one wants that. Least of all, Ian Rankin:

"Hard to believe Tripwire is already 21 - and looking more youthful than ever. Still the coolest magazine on the planet,

and helping young and old alike fritter away their lives with the best coverage of comics, film, TV, and games. All hail, and here's to the next 21!"

Comic Book Babylon

Well, looks like the cat's out the bag at last! I'm finally launching my memoir of working at Vertigo UK. The title, Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tale of Sex, Drugs & Comics, should give you a pretty good indication of the contents! Yup, this whole blog has been leading up to this event!

I was inspired by two other memoirs, Grant Morrison's Supergods and Phil Hall's My Monthly Curse, and—seeing as this year is Vertigo's 20th anniversary—I figured if I didn't launch the book in 2013, I never would. The book recounts my life, how it has been shaped by my passion for comics, and how I ended up as DC Comic's first British member of editorial staff, back in 1993.

Some of you may have read the interview I did for Sci-Fi Now where I said: "It was an incredibly exciting time to be working in comics and anything seemed possible." And that remains true to this day. When I was at the Vertigo London office, with my boss Art Young, we were given the keys to the kingdom in the form of unwavering expesenses. And we fully abused this privilege as much as possible. What followed was two and a half years of unbridled decadence and creativity that resulted in books like Face, Enigma, Rogan GoshKill Your Boyfriend, Flex Mentallo, and Ghostdancing, and excessive amounts of booze and drugs being consumed. 

This book blows the lid off the comics scene in the mid-Ninieties, at the tail-end of the Rave scene—when ecstasy was still rife—and when Britpop was burgeoning. What's been really hard about writing this book is that I wanted it to appeal to both comic and non-comic readers. Trying to write about comics without the minutiae that could bore the arse off the uninformed, whilst bringing something new to the informed fans, while simultaneously trying to entertain both, is no easy matter! I hope I've struck a happy medium.

Meanwhile, Rich Johnston is serialising the first chapter of the book on Bleeding Cool, but if you can't be bothered heading over there, below is what's been serialised so far.

There are three versions of Comic Book Babylon available: eBook (with additional images); the paperback (h 20cm x w 13cm); and 200 limited edition hardbacks with jacket (h 23cm x w 15cm).

There's a preview of the the project here and the whole thing goes live on Thursday 4 April. Please pledge generously! And spread the word! This project will only happen if lovely people like yourself, Tweet, Facebook, Blog and share the information and pledge! Thank you!

Any questions, just ask!

All the very best,


“Oh my God. Oh wow. Everything’s all full of light. It’s beautiful. This is the most amazing thing. I can’t stop talking.” That’s the girl’s reaction when she first takes Ecstasy in Grant Morrison and Philip Bond’s 1995 comic, Kill Your Boyfriend.

My own initial experience with the drug, in a small basement flat in Paddington, was not dissimilarly inarticulate, “Oh fuckin’ hell. Shit. That’s so—Fuck. Ha! I can’t believe it.” Et cetera. It was an evening that opened up my eyes to an alternate universe. A universe of infinite colours and possibilities. I was seeing patterns on the walls. The low level lights sparkled and twinkled, as if through a starlight filter. I looked at my friends, Art, Paul and Ellie, and tribal tattoos were appearing on their faces and arms. Intricate swirling patterns that morphed and changed.

I was smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was smiling so hard it hurt. I wanted to strip off and dance and shout. I had a deep, overwhelming love for everyone in the room. Not just for being my friends, or for introducing me to this new reality. Not even because they’d allowed me into their inner circle, but simply because they were fellow human beings, made of the same beautiful light as I was.

We stayed up till sunrise, talking, dancing, sensing, while the MDMA worked its magic on our synapses. This was fantastic. I was on top of the world and embraced in an all-encompassing, unconditional love. I had entered a living comic book world, where anything was possible.

It would never get that good again.

Chapter One: Description of the Writer as a Young Man

“I can tread on the heels of his memories, see through his child’s eyes and feel the early blossoming of his self-awareness.”
- Millennium Fever

My dad held me tightly by the hand as he strode through a crowded, noisy, smelly London fruit’n’veg street market. The road was littered with banana boxes, discarded orange tissue wrappers and abandoned grapes. My little legs struggled to keep pace with his determined stride, while simultaneously trying to dodge through the labyrinthine crowd. His long, dark, Seventies-style hair blew in the summer breeze, as I looked up at his Zapata-moustachioed face. Where we were going, I didn’t know, but when we got there, there was a hushed reverence about the place.

The shop was a rag-tag mess of piles of magazines, stacks of Hawkwind albums, musty old science fiction paperbacks and bins of bargain basement comics. Various hairy, young men shuffled about the place rummaging through the endless publications, panning for gold. The place reeked of patchouli oil, presumably to mask the mustiness of old paper and poor personal hygiene.

The most impressive thing there was a huge wooden cut-out figure of Captain America by Jack Kirby on the wall, just above the stairs to the basement. His dynamic pose, leaping towards the viewer in the bright red, white and blue of the costume, as he brandished his giant shield, seared itself into my brain. From then on I was hooked on comics. I was five years old. The shop was Dark They Were and Golden Eyed.

To non-comic fans it’s hard to describe how important Dark They Were and Golden Eyed was to the modern British comics industry. This was where it all began. It was the first proto-comic shop in the UK. British Comics Fandom had its roots here. Mike Lake and Nick Landau met here and formed the legendary conflicted powerhouse duo that would set up the Forbidden Planet retail chain, Titan Distribution and Titan Books publishing house. Paul Hudson worked here and would go on to run three successful Comic Showcase shops in London, Cambridge and Oxford. Josh Palmano used to visit here and eventually set up his famous Gosh! Comics—possibly the best loved comic shop in London today. It was the clubhouse of what were to become some of the most influential comic creators the UK ever produced. Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot all hung out here. As did Marvel UK and Warrior founder Dez Skinn. And a teenage mop-haired, leather-jacketed Neil Gaiman would frequently pop in, before heading off down the road to catch the latest bands at The Marquee, whenever he got into London. This was the nexus point. Genesis. Ground Zero. THE BIG BANG. In musical terms, Dark They Were… was the Sex Pistols playing at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976.

Dark They Were… was run by Derek “Bram” Stokes and took its convoluted name from a Ray Bradbury short story. Some kids’ dads take them religiously to football matches every Saturday and inspire a life-long tribal loyalty to the sport. My dad was different. For the few brief years we lived at the Toc H men’s hostel in Fitzroy Square, London, every Saturday morning, he would take me down to Dark They Were… I’d check out the comic bins, while he’d look through the endless science fiction paperbacks, like Michael Moorcock’s Elric series and William Tenn’s Of Men and Monsters. The latter had a profound effect on me as a child, with its evocative cover of a tribal man with a spear fighting a giant crab-like creature, painted by supreme fantasy artist, Boris Vallejo.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, upstairs was also the first semi-official offices of The Fortean Times where Bob Rickard, Paul Sieveking and Steve Moore would meet “every Tuesday afternoon”, to discuss everything from Spontaneous Human Combustion to frogs found alive inside sealed stones. Steve Moore also wrote comics and would become a mentor to his namesake, Alan.

This small, proto-comic shop was where I was spiritually born.

After several years of moving around between London, Cornwall, and Kent, my parents finally settled in Virginia Water, on the Surrey/Berkshire border. My mum was employed as a live-in housekeeper and we had a large house to ourselves, next to an even larger house that she had to cook for, clean and manage. I was seven.

The first comics I consciously remember wanting and buying with my own money weren’t the Beano and Dandy (I was already a member of the former’s Dennis the Menace fan club, with its furry, goggle-eyed Gnasher badge). I was more cutting edge than that. My best friend, Andrew, and I both read Krazy. Launched by IPC in October 1976, Krazy was a humour comic that had a more contemporary, anti-establishment feel to it than anything the distinctly conservative Dundee-based DC Thomson published. We were entering the age of punk, after all. The back cover was always disguised as something innocuous like a schoolbook, a newspaper or some highbrow literature, so it could be flipped over at a moment’s notice, whenever a parent or teacher strolled by. The lead story was the Krazy Gang, featuring Cheeky, and their battles with their nemesis, the fetid Pongo Snodgrass. I loved it with a passion.

The mid- to late-Seventies was a fantastic boom time for British comics. In the space of four years, four publications were launched that were to change my life and inform my comics reading for the next 20 years. I was into the new wave of edgy comics being put out by writer/editor Pat Mills and his cohorts at IPC. Those titles were Battle, Action, Starlord and 2000 AD. 1975’s Battle was a war comic and—along with Commando Picture Library—taught me all the German I’d ever need to know, from “Achtung!” “Schell!” and “Donner und Blitzen” to “Gott im Himmel!” and “Nien! Nien! Der Englander Schwien!” However, unlike DC Thomson’s Commando series, Battle was brutal in its depictions of war. Darkie’s Mob—apart from having unfortunately unintentional racist connotations in its title—was a savage story of WWII in South East Asia. One issue saw the eponymous hero nailed to a corrugated steel roof by the Japanese, in all its bloody glory.

And Action wasn’t much better. Here, we had possibly the most subversive comic of the Seventies. Issue #1 was cover-dated Valentine’s Day, 1976 and it massacred the competition. The comic lifted concepts—or “dead cribs” as Mills called them—from all the cool films that were out at the time and turned them into strips for kids. Jaws became Hook Jaw, Rollerball became Death Game 1999 and Dirty Harry became Dredger. It was a masterstroke. All these were films I, and my friends, wanted to see, but were far too young to get into at the cinema. But now I could get my own versions on the comics’ page, for a mere 7p! Every story was bloody, violent and subversive.

The very gore and brutality that made Action popular with me and all the other kids, also acted as a red flag to “concerned citizens”, with The Sun newspaper calling it "the seven penny nightmare". Action became the centre of a campaign led by do-gooding busybody Mary Whitehouse and her evil cronies, the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, as they tried to ban the comic. IPC sensed trouble on the wind and tried toning the content down.

By September 1976—less than seven months after launching—they even sent Action’s editor, John Sanders, on to the primetime TV show Nationwide, where he tried to defend the comic from a forceful attack by interviewer Frank Bough, who condemned the comic for corrupting Britain’s youth. This was the same Frank Bough who was later vilified in the tabloids in the ‘90s for taking cocaine, wearing lingerie at sex parties and visiting dominatrixes. Nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but if the tabloids have taught us anything, it’s that self-righteousness is a double-edged weapon that’s dangerous for those in the public eye to wield.
Bough’s fall from grace paradoxically happened around the same time as Martin Barker’s excellent book Action - The Story of a Violent Comic was released. History loves irony.

Although Action remained popular, its days were numbered and it eventually was watered down so much that it was merged with Battle to create Battle Action, before the Action part was finally removed.

However, creator Pat Mills learnt a lot from creating Action and put all this knowledge into his next opus. When 2000 AD launched on 26th February 1977, punk rock was flourishing and the magazine borrowed liberally from the culture with characters like Spikes Harvey Rotten. The comic was a revelation to an eight-year-old me. Mature, radical and unusual, it became my favourite comic after Action had its balls cut off by the media. Although, admittedly, it was initially all about the free gifts. Prog 1 (they didn’t call them issues) came with a cheap red plastic mini-Frisbee or “Space Spinner” as they called it. My friend Andrew and I bought multiple copies of Prog 2 to get the M.A.C.H. 1 stickers. M.A.C.H. 1 was a Six Million Dollar Man rip-off—sorry, “dead crib”. The TV series was the hottest show around and one of our favourites. The stickers depicted bits of wiring and electronics you were supposed to put on your body “revealing” your bionics underneath. I recall being in a restaurant with Andrew’s parents and us, bored, covering our arms in fake digital circuitry. Incidentally, Andrew had on his bedroom wall a similar cut-out of Captain America I’d first seen in Dark They Were. Only this image was taken from the cover of Captain America #193 (January, 1976) by Jack Kirby and John Romita Snr. I coveted that almost life-size wooden figure for years.

2000 AD was “edited” by Tharg, a green alien with a telephone dial ("The Rosette of Sirius") stuck on his forehead, who apparently had nothing better to do than mess around with Earth’s periodical publishing industry. “Borag Thungg, Earthlets” he greeted us, introducing a generation of boys to a new “Zarjaz” language. The rest of the editorial and creative staff were all robots with names like Burt (Richard Burton—not the actor), AALN-1 (Alan Grant), Mac-2 (Alan Mackenzie), Bish-OP (David Bishop) and Dig-L (Andy Diggle). It was a bit of a crap in-joke, but we went along for the ride anyway, our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks. It’s a daft joke that 2000 AD insists on pursuing to this day.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Vertigo's 20th Anniversary

How time flies, eh? I've noticed that not only haven't I had the time to post a single blog this year (and it's mid-Feb!) but also, 20 years seem to have mysteriously sneaked away somewhere. It was 20 years ago when I'd started in the best job I'd ever had. It was my dream job of working for my favourite comic book publisher, DC Comics. More importantly, it was for the coolest, most important and experimental imprint, Vertigo.

Those were wild, crazy days working in London with my boss, Senior Editor, Art Young, on titles like The Extremist, Face, Enigma, Millennium Fever, Kill Your Boyfriend, The Mystery Play, etc. We were free to do pretty much whatever we liked. And we did. In fact, the stories of excess of the Vertigo UK office are practically legendary these days. So I thought I should set the record straight and write about that period. I'm going to be launching Comic Book Bablyon: A Cautionary Tale of Sex, Drugs & Comics on Kickstarter next month. This part memoir/part look at the British comics industry in the mid-Nineties will explode a few myths, and perhaps create a few more. I'll post on here again when the project is live.

Joel Meadows interviewed me about those halcyon days for Sci-Fi Now magazine for a big article marking the 20th anniversary. I must say I was quite surprised at how prominently I featured (which was nice).

Looking back over the article, it's amazing how much like a (admittedly, mostly boy's) club it was. I knew most of the writers and artists (even the ones I didn't directly work with) and I'm still (intermediately) in touch with most of them. One of them became one of my best friends and I even went to his wedding. We've stayed round each other's houses, got drunk together, gone on holiday together, seen friends have kids who have grown up, been to funerals together. Basically shared our lives over the past two decades. There's a very strong bond there still with the Vertigo group of creators I'm very proud to call friends. 

Oh listen to me getting all sentimental! Anyway, Vertigo still has another good 20 years left in her (I hope), and while I don't read everything they publish, I still think they are the best "mainstream alternative" (if that isn't an oxymoron - which it probably is) out there, and there's no mistaking the quality of the titles.

You can see the pages below, but I'd recommend going out and buying the magazine, because it is very good, and magazine's need your money, otherwise they'll go bust. Oh, and go and by more books and comics. Real ones, not just digital ones!

See you in 20! (Days, not years!)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Indian Comics Scene Part 2

Apologies for not posting much recently, but I have been gallivanting off around the world. Having headed out to Nashville to present the latest titles from the Ilex Gift range, I then popped back to Goa for a few weeks’ break.

While there I learnt about the state’s best-known cartoonist, Mario de Miranda. If that name sounds Latin to you, that’s because Goa was under Portuguese rule until 1961 (some 14 years after the rest of India achieved independence). Subsequently many local Goans continue to have Portuguese names.
Born in Daman on 26 May 1926 De Miranda, came from a privileged Brahmin family background (part of the batkar class), and was a natural born cartoonist and self-taught—“I went to art school for a day only. I didn’t like it, so I left.” He began drawing humorous scenes of Goan life, his trademark to come. Like many Goans his background was a comfortable mix of Hindi and Roman Catholisim and he studied at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and earned money on the side creating postcards. He dropped out of studying archticture and went into advertising for four years before joining The Illustrated Weekly, working as a cartoonist full time. He was soon poached by Current magazine and then the Times of India, where he launched his popular characters, Miss Nimbupani, Bandalas and Miss Fonseca. His work also appeared in Femina and the Economic Times.
He travelled widely in Portugal and the UK (where he lived for five years) and his work appeared in Lilliput, MAD, and Punch. He met Ronald Searle, who mentored de Miranda, and you can certainly see the former’s influence in the Goan cartoonist’s work, “He said, ‘keep cartooning, but stop copying me,’”(!) recalled de Miranda. He also visited New York, meeting fellow cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Pat Oliphant.

de Miranda was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988 and Padma Bhushan in 2002, India’s fourth and third highest civilian honours, and in 2009 the All India Cartoonists' Association, Bangalore, honoured him with a lifetime achievement award
Today is the first anniversary of his death and you can find out more (along with an excellent video interview) on his official websiteHe seemed like a lovely chap and I wish I could have met him.
Above: The 'Cafe Mondegar' in Mumbai features walls painted by de Miranda. His work also appears in train stations in Goa.

As I was leaving Goa I picked up The Herald newspaper (“The voice of Goa since 1900”) and they had an article about collectors of various things including toy cars, salt and pepper shakers, and, of course, comics:

“Most children outgrow comics, but with Gordon Lobo (42) the passion for these graphic novels is undiminished, since he started collecting them at the age of 10. Fascinated by the graphic illustrations, which are akin to watching a movie for Gordon, his collection which numbers around 8,000 feature the Marvel series – Superman, Batman [sic] Spiderman [sic] among others, Frank Millers (Terry Pratchett) [sic], Beano Beagle, Archie, Asterisk, Tintin, Indrajal and many many more. Computer graphics have made it possible for him to read his favourite comics on net, but a hard copy is always a welcome addition to his massive collection at Aldona.”

Ignoring all the inaccuracies in the piece, it strikes me that comic collecting is still a relatively rare and novel thing in India and the article reads like something that might have appeared in the UK press 25-30 years ago. Actually the article reminded me of the one I’d reported on earlier reagarding Aalok Joshi and his collection of 7,000 comics.

Sadly, this trip I missed out on seeing some India creators I wanted to meet, and I didn’t even get the chance to pick up the lastest publications. Ah, well, there’s always next year. Unless anyone wants to invite me to Indian Comic Con on 8-10 February in Dehli or the Mumbai Film and Comics Convention in October!

I did get to visit the Muslim city of Bijapur (see below) and on the train there I was harassed by a fearsome Hijra (male eunuch) demanding money, "YES! YES! NOW!" thrusting her hand out. The experience reminded me of Craig Thompson's graphic novel Habibi, when the eponymous hero is taken in by a group of Hijras:

Another aspect of Bijapur that reminded me of Habibi was Thompson's love of Islamist calligraphy, art and design, and there was tons of this beautiful script all over the various mausoleums and buildings I visited (see below). I was just frustrating that I don't read Arabic.

Bijapur takes an effort to get there (10 hours from Goa by local bus) but is worth it for the architecture, including the world's second largest unsupported dome, with it's own whispering gallery, just like St. Paul's in London. Because of its remoteness I only saw three Westerners, although it's a popular destination for Indian tourists.

It’s interesting to note that the Indian Comics Scene is my most read article on this blog, and is visited predominately by Indians. So to all my readers and friends over there I have an impassioned public plea to you:

Please, please, PLEASE clean your beautiful country up! You have such an amazing land and it is completely ruined by the fact that the majority of you drop your litter everywhere. Not only is it ugly it is dangerous to animals and a health hazard to humans. I saw so much wanton rubbish being dumped in the streets and in wonderful water tanks it was horrific. I know that Bangalore has just started a major recycling scheme and you have to start doing this now, right across the nation, in every state and city.

If you don’t sort out your recycling and rubbish problems now, and fast, India will drown under a sea of crap. As one businessman in Bijapur told me, regarding the rubbish problem, “We are about 200 years behind you”. Actually, you’re only about 50-60 years behind the UK, as we had similar issues until the mid-1950s when we introduced the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. India needs a similar campaign and to instil a national pride in clean streets and improved hygiene. And there's money to be made in recycling! Some Indian entrepreneurs are making a good living recycling plastic bottles (one of India's biggest pollutants). 

It’s your responsibility, it’s your neighbour’s responsibility and it’s your friends, family, work colleagues’ and every-single-person-you-know’s responsibility to clean the mess up. Don't wait to be told by the government to do this, be the change you want to see and make your country beautiful again. I only rant because I love your country so much! ;-)