Sex, Drugs & Comics – A Survivor’s Tale Part Seven

Comic-Book-Baylon-PBK-cover2-lo-res1-227x350Tim 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.

Whenever my mum would do the weekly shop at the supermarket in Egham, I would visit the newsagent’s next door. This was an incredible Aladdin’s cave of wonders. This enormous member of the Martin’s chain stocked just about every conceivable periodical in existence, including many titles that were unavailable anywhere else. They had all the standard American DC (Not to be confused with the Dundee-based DC Thomson) and Marvel superhero comics, of course, like The X-Men or Justice League of America, but it was here that I discovered my maturing tastes in comics—I’d come some way since being confused by pssst! I came across the lavish, full-colour, thick, magazine-sized Epic Illustrated, published by Marvel and edited by the late Archie “Nicest guy in comics” Goodwin. The high page count and production values were reflected in the price and it reminded me of my dad’s copies of the science-based Omni magazine. Reading Rick Vietch’s Abraxas and The Earthman for the first time, in those pages, blew my tiny teenaged mind. This “Moby Dick in Space” was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Where else could you read about the crew of a spaceship who consisted of a giant praying mantis, a half-woman/half-leopard and an Earthman who wore his own flayed skin like a wrap? The ship itself looked like a giant tree, as it glided through the galaxy in search of a giant, red space-whale—the Abraxas of the title. Psychedelic comics at their best, it was simultaneously engrossing and unsettling, and I remained frustrated that I’d have to wait a whole month for the next issue (I’d been spoilt by 2000 AD’s weekly schedule).

Within that newsagent’s I also discovered Marvel UK’s Captain Britain, written by Jamie Delano and drawn by Alan Davis. I was a huge Alan Davis fan at the time, right from his early work on the aforementioned Harry Twenty on the High Rock in 2000 AD. The earlier episodes of Captain Britain by Alan’s Moore and Davis that appeared in Mighty World of Marvel and Daredevils, slipped under my usually acute comics radar. In fact, the vast majority of Marvel UK’s output—with the exception of the initial launch of Captain Britain Weekly by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in 1976—completely slid passed me, like some Teflon-coated stealth publisher.

But it was in this newsagents, this wonderful purveyor of dreams, that I first discovered possibly the most important British comic launched since 2000 AD, Warrior. Similarly, I’d managed to miss this black and white magazine-sized anthology for four whole months, but as soon as I saw issue #5 I was hooked.

I ordered the first four issues in the post from a man called Dez Skinn, who was the editor/publisher. Three whole months passed, and I’d all but given up hope of ever filling the gaps in my collection when they arrived. This meant I could now catch up on the missing chapters of my favourite strips, Marvelman by Alan Moore and Garry Leach, and V for Vendetta, by Moore and drawn by David Lloyd.

Warrior was a portal to a world of comics I was completely unaware of. The cover to issue #1 proclaimed “He’s Back! Axel Pressbutton-The Psychotic Cyborg!” I didn’t even know who he was, let alone that he’d been away. Similarly, the Marvelman strip had the hero announcing, “I’m back!” But the sheer presumption and audacity that I should know who these characters were carried me on. I eventually discovered that Axel Pressbutton had appeared in a strip, The Stars My Degradation written by Steve Moore and drawn by Alan Moore (under the guises of Pedro Henry and Curt Vile) for Sounds music magazine. Whereas Marvelman was a British superhero created by Mick Anglo 15 years before I was born. Both were completely esoteric to me, but it actually didn’t matter what their origins were, as they’d been completely revamped for Warrior.

I loved the fact that on the back covers of Warrior they had a catalogue of all the cool badges you could buy. 20 years later I would work with Dez on his Comics International magazine, and other projects, and the whole experience was enlightening and highly educational. Apparently, the designs on the back cover were the actual ones used to make the badges. All Dez was doing was running off a couple of extra hundred covers from the printers and using those to make the badges in a typical money saving Skinn scam—you can take the man out of Yorkshire, but…

Years later my parents became friends with Lis Massey, who, it turned out, used to work on Warrior as Editorial and PR Assistant, and posed for the cover of #13 by Garry Leach. My dad shares the same birthday as Lis. I only mention that to illustrate how small the world is and how it was fated that my life was to be entwined with comics.

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