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.
I started visiting various comic marts at Westminster and Camden town halls. Here were dozens of dealers from all over the UK who gathered to sell back issues from huge long boxes perched on wooden trestle tables. Many comic creators attended these events, like Eddie Campbell, Ed Hilyer and Woodrow Phoenix. It was at one of these events that Alan Moore was introduced to Dave Gibbons. These marts also saw the entrepreneurial Paul Gravett setting up Fast Fiction, a stall where small press creators could sell their self-published comics for a small percentage. Paul moved on to publish Escape magazine so by the time I’d discovered these monthly comic fairs/social gatherings Ed Pinsent was running the stand and had set up a small photocopied anthology of the same name, showcasing the best talents around. This was all very inspirational to timid me, despite never really engaging with anyone at this stage.
After a year of misery I finally couldn’t stand it any more and fled the tedious job at Austin Reed’s in Windsor and the crappy bedsit in Eton and moved to my parent’s place in Cranbrook. It was a leap of faith, straight into the fire. It was a tiny, two-bedroom cottage on a main road and next to a pub. Here I was, trapped in deepest Kent with no money, no friends, no job and no prospects. I was growing increasingly morose. I half-heartedly started writing several comic book concepts. Again, I was inspired by my dad, who in 1977 had a short Stephen King-esque story called Jerome, published in Prima women’s magazine. I remember being incredibly impressed by this. My dad, a published author! Several years later he wrote to DC Comics inquiring about work there. He received a letter back from editor Archie Goodwin. The letterhead had, on the front, the DC bullet in green at the top, and on the back it had all DC’s key superheroes standing on each other’s shoulders, with Superman at the top with his arms wide open. When held up against the light the two images merged to show DC’s roster of stars supporting the logo. The contents of the letter were just as encouraging. “While we don’t have any openings as yet,” Archie explained, “I would be interested to see anything if you’d like to try out for Firestorm.” Firestorm was a C-List DC superhero who had his own title and had gone through three or four complete character revamps in so many years. They never quite knew what to do with him, and I guess Dad didn’t either, as, to my dismay, he never followed this up.
I half-heartedly started writing several comic book treatments, literally bashed out on my beautiful beast of an Underwood No. 5 typewriter (the non-electric sort). But in those days before the Internet I lacked guidance, feedback or any connectivity with fellow writers and comic fans. I even naively tried writing drunk on whiskey, in some misguided belief that I might start channelling Hemingway’s genius. I ended up just getting smashed, unable to type a coherent sentence, and failing to blow my brains out with a shotgun.