It was Stan's fault, that title. Back in 1979 when I was orchestrating "The Marvel Revolution" (aka: fulfill my brief to Make Marvel UK a profitable company once more), my immediate superior was Stan Lee, 3500 miles away in New York!
Stan thought it would be a great idea if I gave Marvel UK a similar reader-friendly feel to what he'd so successfully achieved in the States. He'd done so through his "Stan's Soapbox" column in all the comics, giving readers an inside peek into the Marvel Bullpen and a chance for Stan to hype new titles. Stan suggested I did a similar column (even suggesting we could guest write each other's column from time to time). He even gave me a title for it... Sez Dez.
With our British weeklies doing so well, thanks to such commercial titles as Star Wars Weekly, Hulk Comic, Spider-Man Comic and Doctor Who Weekly, my column was reaching a massive audience of almost half a million readers.
It resurfaced almost a decade later, to provide a voice for the Quality Comics repackaging of 2000 AD material as US colour comics. In its second incarnation, its audience wasn't quite so large, although it did run in eight titles. A sample is shown at left (click for readable view)...
When I launched Comics International in 1990, as a trade paper for the industry, I didn't want to bring it back a third time. This was a title about everybody else, not those producing the magazine. But, amazingly, people kept asking for its return so I gave in and it was reborn around issue 105 and continued for the next 95 issues.
Now it's back once more, albeit with a hopefully more 21st century-sounding main header of "The Skinny" for Future Publishing's COMIC HEROES magazine.
Still finding mock-up dummies of projects which never were, and have just posted one which would have become a cult classic… Danger Man, taken from the 1960s ITC TV series and with art by the wonderful Jesus Blasco. Click here for the Ones That Got Away page and whizz on down to the bottom for the full story.
1/9/11: Keeping the Mail Order Bods quiet
We’re got to fed up with eBay making sellers’ lives pure hell that we’ve added a few new pages to this site, offering a range of goodies for the discerning comics fan and historian. You’ll find our very own Quality back issues (Warrior, House of Hammer, Starburst and the rest) here, while we’ve also produced a fabulous cover gallery and sales lists for hundreds of Starblazer and thousands of Commando back issues.
We’ll be adding more as weeks pass, so be sure to bookmark this page, chums!
18/8/11: MUSIC MAESTRO PUH-LEEZE!
As the more discerning among you will already realise, Brighton is a creative nexus for all things artistic… from computer game creators to actors, writers, comics folk and musicians. In fact, you can hardly step out of the front door without tripping over a creative of some sort! Even our window cleaner is an eccentric! About 75 years old, cut glass accent and green hair! No, really.
In Brighton, if you want to sound unusual and interesting in a pub chat (there are 365 of said establishments in this fine town BTW), best say you’re an accountant or an estate agent… anything but a creative, they’re ten a penny!
All of which is a tortuous lead-in to saying I’m now offering to the world the chap-hop charms of two of my local musical chums. Men of great taste and infinite jest, not only do both coincidentally drink from the same trough in splendid and slightly different ways, but they both have the good taste to also be followers of the sequential art form too!
In fact, one of them is actually a bit of a practitioner to boot! Above right is a sample of Mr B’s more autobiographical work to the right.
Given the oft-heard crossover between music and comics, coupled with our own mail order expertise going all the way back to 1975’s House of Hammer Bargain Basement, it seemed only logical to get behind these two chaps full force.
You’ll find the results here.
26/6/11: Back up to Manchester again next weekend. There’s an all-day celebration of one of my old titles reaching its 30th birthday… That’s WARRIORcon on Saturday July 2 from 11-5pm at the city’s top pub: The Lass O’Gowrie. Email guvnor Gareth on email@example.com with the magic word of “Champion” and you can get in for a bargain £4.00.
14/6/11: Just back from Manchester and a relaunch party for one of my old titles, Starburst – the UK’s longest-running science fiction film & TV magazine (apparently – it lasted 365 issues, under various publishers and editors). Mike Royce has revived it as a podcast and webzine. Check out the launch pics here.
18/4/11: Have now completed the coverage of my time with Marvel UK by finishing off the Doctor Who entry. That’s got me finally into the 1980s and pushed the total word count on here beyond the 100,000 mark. Phew! I thought this might make an interesting little book when done, but the way it’s going it would be more like an entire series!
19/3/11: Just about made it into the 1980s covering past publications and projects. Recent website updates include Studio System detailing The Monster Club and swinging Soho at the birth of the new decade, plus I’m just getting into the launch of Doctor Who Weekly. So much to say, so little (spare) time…
5/2/11: Hardly a week back from the United Arab Emirates and I’ve been a guest speaker at another event. Yet more sand but less heat this time as I took a contingent of the Brighton bunch (or Skinn’s Posse as some have been calling us) down to Pontins, Camber Sands, for the second SFX Weekender.
Above (l-r): artists Glenn Fabry and Paul Cemmick, publishers Gareth Kavanagh and yrs truly, plus Cravats lead singer turned toigh guy actor The Shend, getting ready for action.
That the event had the audacity to be held on my birthday resulted in a higher personal profile than I’d intended, with me mounting the stage during the evening festivities, being serenaded by the assembled multitude and ending with a somewhat foolhardy dive into the mosh pit. So much for growing old gracefully!
I’m indebted to reader Simon Fitzpatrick for sending me the following clipping from the previous year’s event. As they invited me back this year, I can only imagine that SFX Magazine must have seen the article and actually believed what it said!
Education through Entertainment in the United Arab Emirates
30/1/11: Back from the first United Arab Emirates trip. Wow! Heady stuff. To the left is a photo taken during the talk at the New York University (Abu Dhabi) featuring Qais Mohammed Sedki (who became a firm friend during the three hour private conversation we shared before the event), yours truly as chair person and Charles Kochman (flown in from the States specifically for the talk and who I regret not getting to spend more time with). Following the 90-minute talk, there was a lively Q&A session and I then did a stack of interviews with local students, example here. There’s a review of the event here and NYU has made the entire discussion available as an online video here.
But I was actually out there for a meetings-packed week, laying the foundations for a major event about which more to follow. Brit cartoonist Kev F Sutherland also came out (spending his days zooming around ten local schools with his superb interactive workshop). This gave me a pal to chat with during our evenings back at the hotel where, despite fears, alcohol is available and, much to my relief and probably Kev’s disdain, they still allow smoking in restaurants and bars!
As well as this 3-piece suit event, I got all kitted up for the entire week with some serious funky power dressing (including skinny ties, wide braces, skinny jeans and chelsea boots) which greatly bemused the Emirati as such attire is rarely seen out there. Think Blues Brothers meets Wall Street in the Middle East!
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, the UAE also has the largest number of unemployed under-25s (with the United Nations fearing it may rise as high as 40% by the end of 2011). I believe this is mainly due to it being a key victim of the worldwide fall in literacy, surely the basis for all learning. So, under my instant slogan of “Education through Entertainment”, it looks like I’ve found a new challenge in life!
19/1/11: With my strong beliefs about the role comics can play in fighting the ever-increasing worldwide levels in illiteracy, I have recently begun working with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, initially flying out to chair a discussion on Comics and Literacy in the Middle East with further UAE events and workshops set to follow across 2011. More details here when available.
7/1/11: A few people have commented on difficulty in posting a message on here. Simply whizz down to the bottom of any page you want to add your two penneth to on the Forum page and use the “Leave A Reply” section. Seems to work fine for bloody spammers (*groan*) – now deleting over 70 of their nonsense posts a day…
31/12/10: As 2010 draws to a close, I’ve been merrily beavering away at this website for about six months now. With additions to both the Comics Conventions History (on the third Fanzines page, including some great 1968 and 1970 visuals unearthed) and almost completing my time at Marvel UK (just a little thing named Doctor Who Weekly to go!), I’ve almost finished with the 1970s. But I feel like I’m writing a masters thesis here, it’s just passed 80,000 words.
If spam’s anything to go by, we’re certainly getting plenty of hits (we’re deleting about 50 pieces of nonsense every day) but you’ve all gone worrying quiet on us again…
Is it something I said?
23/11/10: As I’ve been dotting about attempting to move each of the sections forward chronologically, having now finished the House of Hammer entry (a mere 22,000 words), the latest updates have been to the fanzines and history of comics conventions section (12,000 words and rising!). There are still more wonderful albeit time-locked visuals, including yet another Frank Bellamy cover, and a fascinating report by Andrew Skilleter on Bellamy’s talk at the 1971 London convention. Looking back and summerising, it’s also amazing to see how much the market evolved in the 1970s with both comic shops and comic conventions almost going extinct! Here’s a handy link to it all for the benefit of regulars. (19/11/10)
Another section I’ve just built up features some of my attempts to convince a mainstream magazine audience of the value of comics literature. You can see examples of my old Arena columns via this link.
Apparently there’s a US version about to be made – let’s hope it shapes up better than the US Life on Mars (see here for the jaw-droppingly awful ending – literally featuring Major Tom, a genetic gene hunt, the planet Mars and even Ground Control (yet the Bowie soundtrack is oddly replaced by Elton John’s Mona Lisa!). Looks like we can add “metaphor” to the Separated by a Common Language list which began with “irony”.
Anyway, main plot: At a Brighton function recently (The Space) I was introduced to Toby Whithouse, creator/writer of the wonderful everyday tale of three Bristol housemates – a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. It turned out he’s as big a fan of Warrior and House of Hammer as I am of his work.
We’ve promised to swap autographs over a beer soon! Here’s a photo of said historic first encounter twixt Toby and Dez “At the start of their bromance,” as snapper Kerensa Bryant put it! Hate to think what she’d have said if she’d heard event organiser Wayne Imms when we met… he told me he has every issue from #1 of my old Starburst magazine!
A HISTORY OF HORROR
I do hope you’ve been watching the latest from the ever-amazing author/actor Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who, League of Gentlemen, Nighty Night, Jekyll, etc).
His History of Horror is a three parter documentary on BBC 4, currently available as a catch-up through BBC iPlayer, or Google “A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss”.
The first part focused on Universal horror, the second on Hammer, Amicus and Roger Corman, the third on the 1980s US horror wave.
He even gave my old House of Hammer magazine a lovely plug in the second one, bless him.
Couldn’t think where to stick this little strip, so it’s ended up here. ‘Twas back in the mid-1990s and HM Customs & Excise (Heathrow) had a new department head, obviously keen to flex her muscles. Knockabout’s Tony & Carol Bennett had recently published a Robert Crumb collection, My Troubles with Women. As always, they shipped a goodly quantity over to Last Gasp in California, for US distribution.
Then the Crumb movie came out and domestic sales rocketed, resulting in them selling out. Sensibly, as there were still plenty of copies Stateside, they shipped a whole bunch back to themselves. A British book coming back into Britain.
But the shipment was seized at Heathrow, deemed as obscene, and Knockabout was faced with hefty court costs if they wished to defend and get their books back. So it was time to do something madcap to raise funds!
Paul Hudson, then owner of London’s Comic Showcase shop, and I, then editor of Comics International, decided we’d do a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for the cause. Here’s how it went…
The ensuing court case was equally funny. On one side the briefcase-bearing suits of Her Majesty’s, all filed in with their new boss, eager to please and impress. On the other side a rag-tag bunch of comics sorts.
Their aim was to convince the judge that Robert Crumb’s work was pornographic smut. Ours was to justify it as autobiographic memories, drawn in such a style that NOBODY (except maybe Crumb himself) could consider it even a tad saucy.
Their side seriously started to err when they tried comparing it to Soho porn. My favourite moment was when comics historian Paul Gravett was cross-examined by the prosecution. “Is this not the kind of material you would expect to find in a typical Soho pornography shop?” they asked. Indignantly, Paul replied, “I certainly wouldn’t know!” (his face a picture at the very suggestion he was familiar with such). You had to be there.
Anyway, major victory for the little guy. We won, thrashed them. Humiliated them. Beat them hollow. Wonder what that did for the shiny new top dog’s career at Heathrow?
Posted by Dez Skinn in Columns | Comments Off
Maybe it’s just me, but having produced the Sez Dez column hither and yon for decades now, I felt its latest incarnation for Future Publishing needed a 21st century facelift, so with Sez Dez in small letters (‘cos we’re all continuity fanboys) it’s been reborn as The Skinny.
For those of you in parts of the world unable to locate Comic Heroes magazine (but you really should try!), here’s the content of the first few…
Sez Dez on Downloads
Produced for Future Publishing’s COMIC HEROES #1, March 2010; http://www.comicheroesmagazine.com/
It’s not the most super-heroic way to grab your attention for an opening paragraph, but isn’t it amazing that in a post-punk possibly pre-apocalyptic society here in the dear old UK milkmen still leave full bottles by your front door and nobody nicks them? I mean, come on… the prisons are overcrowded, inflation’s running rampant, dole figures are bulging but nobody would dream of breaking that unspoken rule, smashing one of the last bastions of our quaint old society… pinching the milk.
Well, it would be stealing. Theft. The unbearable guilt, the absolute shame of it, such would haunt us to our graves. But downloads? Ah, that’s a different matter. We’ve all been merrily bootlegging somebody else’s copyright material ever since Charles Ginsburg invented the audio tape recorder. And as technology moved on, it’s been happening ever since. Videos, CDs, and now courtesy of the world wide web, just about anything! Even comicbooks.
But that’s a weird one, that. Comicbooks are carefully crafted for print. It’s not just about the individual frames (or panels, if you’re a non-Blighty reader). Artists have been known to throw hissy-fits if a full page ad breaks up a spread. Because of the initial impact. Think about it. It’s a relatively subliminal thing but when you physically turn a page your eye first takes in the next two page spread long before you focus on those itty-bitty speech balloons. It’s the nature of the beast. Chances are you became comics-literate soon after starting primary school, you somehow accepted that absurd concept of speech balloons, narrative panels, thought balloons and sound effects existing in the same visual world as the characters you were reading about. Surreal stuff.
There’s never been a Comics 101 to my knowledge which actually told the reader that dotted outlines mean whispering or jagged outlines shouting or best of all those cloudy bubbly outlines meaning thinking. You just quickly learn to know it. In fact there was a BBC Radio 4 Book Programme a few years back where the four panellists were given a copy of Watchmen to review and two of them admitted they actually couldn’t read it, they weren’t comics literate. They just didn’t get it! And that was with nice and uniform squared off pictures on a nine-frame grid. Hardly taxing. Imagine how they’d have coped with Jim Steranko’s psychedelia on S.H.I.E.L.D. or Frank Bellamy’s jagged and dripping borders on Eagle’s Heros the Spartan? So much for Radio 4 (the shame, the shame).
But we’re talking downloads here. And you could argue that you can print out a download. Sure. And collate and staple together all 32 pages, then rush to your nearest PC World for another bunch of madly-expensive colour cartridges. Not terribly cost-effective that, even with today’s prices for comicbooks. Because we are talking about today’s crop here. Forget archive material going all the way back to the first Batman, Superman and Spider-Man comics (‘cos they’re all up there too!).
It would be blatantly encouraging such piracy were I to namecheck the sites, but they’re up there offering this week’s comicbooks online – all of ‘em! It’s amazing considering how many are being pumped out each week. Even more amazing, the corporate owners of Spidey publishing Marvel and Supes producing DC – the heavyweight Disney and Warner Bros corporations – seem incapable of stopping them. No sooner do they scare one off but two more replace it.
So we’re not talking licensing here, heaven forbid, but an army of people scanning all this stuff in — unless the publishers are still naively sending out promotional e-copies thinking they’ll only be used for review purposes. There is the point that downloads can undermine the viability of the real thing, plus creatives are losing out on their royalties, and the counter-argument that freebies increase a title’s and creator’s profile. But we know all about that through constant battles over film and music.
Besides, we’re collectors. We wouldn’t dream of taking advantage of online comics, would we? The printed form isn’t really a 20th century phenomenon, replaced by technology to be read only on screen, is it? We like the feel of our comicbooks, the smell of them, the sheer thrill of turning that page. They’re a tactile experience that we read, bag and treasure.
Anyway, reading online makes your eyes hurt, doesn’t it? And we’d never steal bottles of milk either!
Sez Dez on British Super-Heroes
produced for Future Publishing’s COMIC HEROES #2, June 2010
For my second column for this new title, I had a sudden realisation, why are features about a visual art always presented as columns of grey type? How dull’s that? So, to avoid boring lists – as this would have included a LOT of them, I twisted Future Publishing’s arm into letting me have a two page spread for the following. They tidied my version up a lot, but here’s what I presented them with…
Sez Dez on Freelancers
produced for Future Publishing’s COMIC HEROES #3, Autumn 2010
These days it hasn’t changed much at all. Sure, the lance may have morphed into a keyboard and the lord into an editor, but it’s still not dedicated. A freelance writer, or artist, colourist or letterer, can work for anybody who’ll have them.
But there is one major difference. A medieval freelance would continually wander the countryside in search of work, these days they don’t get out much. In fact, were it not for Tescos and comic conventions they probably wouldn’t get out at all!
A lot of comics readers envy writers and artists. They see them at conventions being lionized and eulogised, whether on stage or as the focal point of queues, signing and sketching for their public. These are the true comic heroes, the creators.
But that’s only one or two weekends of the year. With the exception of a larger-than-life Hagrid lookalike who rarely strays, they’re pretty much unrecognisable to the general public when they do the shopping. Because it’s not a proper job really, is it? They work from home, so they’re always the first call if one of their children falls over at school. Because don’t fool yourself into believing that it’s such a luxurious lifestyle that their income alone is sufficient to maintain the entire family. No way. The other half invariably works too, except they go out to earn a crust.
The freelancer doesn’t. He (or increasingly frequently she) stays in. Working at home, living at home, seven days a week… freelance. No paid holidays, no paid sickness leave, no Christmas parties, no office gossip. In fact no real perks except being able to wear your jammies all day.
I’ve always had the highest respect for people who can maintain the life of a freelancer. The self-discipline needed is truly awesome. Take John Wagner, for instance: for the best part of 33 years, week in week out this guy has been producing a new Judge Dredd strip for 2000 AD plus more than a few spin-offs. Like most folk, he’ll have had weeks when he felt under the weather, or had personal problems, but he’s still maintained an incredibly high standard. On time, all the time. And if you’ve met six foot something John, you’ll know he’s not the type of person that editors would cajole to keep on time. It’s down to a strict self discipline.
An American comics scribe once summed up what it’s like being a freelance writer by saying “You can never deliver top quality scripts every time. Sometimes I write average stuff, sometimes below average, but every once in a while a script turns out fantastic.” Let’s hope his editor never saw that. But what are they to do if a regular writer (or artist or colorist) turns in a sub-standard piece of work? These people are continually on the eleventh hour of deadlines. There’s no point them even thinking of getting a few issues ahead, cashflow won’t allow for early payment so even if they have the time and inclination, they won’t see any financial reward for months.
It’s easy to criticise somebody’s work, to say, “I could do better”. But could you do better month in month out, on time and on budget for years? Initial Conan the Barbarian artist Barry Windsor Smith suddenly quit drawing the title because he said he wasn’t being paid enough for the amount of work he put in. True, he wasn’t.
In under two years he’d gone from being Jack Kirby-influenced to his pre-Raphaelite stage, highly meticulous in detail and mannered in style. Beautiful and groundbreaking for the comics medium, but impossible to maintain. In fact, impossible to ink too! When the inker was handed the finely pencilled Conan pages and said there was no way he could get it done on time, the editor suggested he simply replaced some of the fantastic backgrounds with either simple horizons and sunsets or just rubbed them out and left the characters as vignettes. Poor Barry. Is there any wonder he quit?
So when Windsor Smith was replaced by Big John Buscema, with Conan #25, the fans felt let down. Buscema had more raw power in his figure work than Smith, but where was all the fantastic detail? But Buscema continued producing Conan on a regular basis for more than a decade.
To allow for the likes of such visionaries as Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Bernie Wrightson or Barry Windsor Smith, you need a legion of solid reliable artists like Curt Swan, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, John Romita and the like to maintain the schedule, decade after decade. Without them, there wouldn’t be any backbone titles to revolutionise. And worse, when these visionaries have awed and amazed the fans with their blowaway four parters, the guys who’ve been keeping the title going until then and have to carry on after the award-winning interruptions seem somehow diminished.
But these are the freelancers I truly respect most. The often unsung comic heroes who month-in month-out produce rock solid work, on time and on budget.
Another reason they’re always in work: They make the editor’s life easier. So if you’re looking for a career in comics, never underestimate that!
Posted by Dez Skinn in Columns | Comments Off