Tim Pilcher, ex-Vertigo Comics editor, is serialising the first chapter of his new book Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tale of Sex, Drugs & Comics on Bleeding Cool. The Kickstarter to fund publication has just started.
Pretty soon comics, in any shape or form, permeated my entire life. Being an only child, they were my escape from a humdrum existence. They were my friends. They were how I marked time. While on a fortnight’s holiday with my parents in Tunisia—a cheap and popular package holiday destination in the late Seventies—I managed to buy and read every single Battle Picture Library war comic I could find in the local shop. I even resorted to buying the French-language comics anthology, Pif. Admittedly it did come with a free gift—which could make square boiled eggs—that had caught my eye. I came back with a stuffed lizard, after my parents refused to buy me a live chameleon from a street vendor. I also returned with an interest in Francophone comics.
Our long-since-vanished local library in Virginia Water supplied me with all the Tintin and Asterix “albums” I could gorge myself on. But it also opened my world up to lesser-known French translations such as Asterix creators René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s Oumpah-pah and Goscinny and Jean Tabary’s Iznogoud series. I voraciously guzzled it all, my literary gluttony knowing no bounds. I was a graphic gourmand whose eyes consumed these visual repasts with a passion. Thus, my ongoing desire for Bande Dessinée (French comic books) was kindled.
I was 13 when my parents, their friends, and I all took off for the Capital Radio Jazz Festival on Sunday 18 July 1982. We drove up in two cars to Knebworth Park on a blazing hot summer’s day and the line-up included The Crusaders, Dizzy Gillespie and Spyro Gyra. Ingrate that I was, all I really remember doing is visiting the stalls where I managed to pick up some Titan Book collections of classic Judge Dredd reprints from 2000 AD (The Cursed Earth Part 1 and Judge Death, with fabulous art by Brian Bolland). There was also a big, old, psychedelically painted, London double-decker bus promoting a weird, arty comic magazine called pssst! I took a sneaky look at it. It had strips by artists like Paul Johnson, Glenn Dakin and Bryan Talbot that were practically impossible for me to decipher. The whole thing was all very avant-garde and neither the art nor the stories grabbed me in any way, but then, I wasn’t the target audience. However, it was on this very bus that a very nice, thin, young man with glasses called Paul Gravett, had spent the previous miserable winter touring the UK, promoting pssst! to a disinterested public. While our paths just missed here, they would cross many times in the years to come.