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

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.

I had no money to get to London, or anywhere, and could barely afford to eat little but carbs, salts and sugars. My diabolically poor culinary skills and lack of funds meant I was living on white rice and soya sauce, and varying my diet with pasta and ketchup.

Somehow I scraped enough money together to make it back up to London for 1987’s UKCAC, which had moved to a bigger venue at Logan Hall, Institute of Education on Bedford Way. Knowing what to expect this time, I’d booked a box room in the halls of residence for the Saturday night, and I was somewhat bolder. I’d learnt that artists would do sketches for you if you asked nicely, or bought them a pint, so armed with a little ring-bound black A6 notebook I started talking to anyone with a name badge.

I managed to get sketches from Jim McCarthy (Brendan’s brother), a young-and-up-and-coming Steve Pugh, Cam Kennedy, and Mike McMahon.

I remember the first time I saw a very drunk Glenn Fabry. He was staggering around in the events hall and on the stage, having spent Saturday afternoon propping up the convention bar, followed by a coterie of fawning fanboys. At the time Glenn was justifiably receiving huge acclaim for his incredible artwork on Slaine in 2000 AD. Barely able to stand, Glenn obviously needed help, however, it seemed to me that these “fans” were just taking the piss, revelling in Glenn’s drunken antics and laughing at him, rather than with him. The next day I saw one of the said fanboys wearing Glenn’s guest badge with some smug arrogance, trying to pass himself off as the great man. I burned with rage at the twat.

There were 21 US guests over that year including Karen Berger (again); graphic novel pioneer and creator of The Spirit, Will Eisner; Art Spiegelman; Walt Simonson—who’d just completed a successful run on Thor; DC Comics’ Publisher Jenette Khan; and DC’s VP and Executive Editor, Dick Giordano. 1987 seemed to be a landmark year for creators. Future Punisher artist Laurence Campbell attended as an aspiring artist and Duncan (Hellboy) Fegredo, Simon (2000 AD) Coleby, and Kev F (Beano, Oink, Viz) Sutherland all got their first professional work at, or shortly before, UKCAC ’87.

It was also the last comic convention Alan Moore ever attended. I remember there was a vast queue for his signing which went out the doors and up one side of a tall staircase. Alan was at the pinnacle of his popularity. Watchmen had just finished and fans couldn’t get enough of him. Limited to signing one item per person, I recall approaching the “Great Yeti of a man” nervously to get my copy of the collected Swamp Thing Vol 1 signed. I was lucky to get anything signed as the queue was vast and his time was limited, but he was a real gent (and always has been in all subsequent meetings, bar one). However, later, so the apocryphal tale goes, whilst visiting the toilet he was accosted by a fan, or fans (accounts vary). Outraged at not even having the breathing space to be able to relive himself, Moore swore he wouldn’t attend another UK or US comic convention. A promise he kept for quarter of a century, until he decided to play N.I.C.E. (the Northampton International Comic Expo) in 2012.

Returning from London I was filled with hope and optimism about comics’ future and my role in it. Which was immediately crushed by the reality of my situation when I reached home. I was stuck in the back of beyond with no experience, no qualifications and no references worth speaking of. This was all too depressing. I decided from that point on that I was going to make this happen, I was determined to work in comics. I just wasn’t quite sure doing what. My art wasn’t up to scratch. I didn’t feel confident enough writing. What other job could I do? And how would I even get this mythical, non-existent job? All I knew was that I wanted to be around comic creators.

“Get to know everybody” I thought. “How do I do that?” Then I had an inspiration, “Get a job in a comic shop.” So, I stopped talking to myself, sat down at my (t)rusty typewriter and started hammering out letters to every comic shop in London…

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