The Wednesday Waffle - Issue Twenty: How did we end up here? An origin story.

February 13, 2019

A conversation with a customer the other day led to me thinking about how I came to discover comics, and made me realise that my story could be regarded as a it odd. (Which I'm sure shocks everyone...) So I figured I'd tell you how I got to where I am - I'd love to hear your stories too, which is why we have a comments section...

 

If you listen to our podcast The Geeks at the Gates you may recall that as a child comics were not allowed in my house, my parents viewing then as a distraction from "real" books. So I got the occasional Summer Special and Annual as treats on holidays, but comics didn't become a thing in my life until I was about ten, when long running UK comic The Beano hit its 2000th issue, a landmark which got me reading The Beano every week for the next couple of years.

 

American or Science Fiction comics - and especially Superheroes - remained off limits, so except for a few issues I borrowed off friends, comics remained largely off my radar.

 

The catalyst for change was unexpected - indeed it's only looking back now that the real trigger occurs to me.

 

Basically, when I was fifteen (around the time we had the Assembly I mentioned in last week's Waffle) everyone in my year at school had to go and do three weeks of work experience in the summer term. In theory we got to choose what sort of thging we went off and did, but in practice we sort of got what we were given and I ended up spending three weeks in a small independent sports shop in Doncaster.

 

Every day I got an hour for lunch, and because Junk Food was regarded about as highly as comics at home, I took the opportunity to go to the Wimpy (Doncaster did not have a McDonalds at that time, if you can believe such a thing...) buy my lunch and take it back to the shop.

 

But I have a very low boredom threshold, and sitting in the stockroom eating a burger wasn't nearly enough for my brain to do - so I took a book, and on that first lunchtime I learned a valuable lesson. The truth is that holding a book open with one hand while eating a quarter-pounder with the other is a recipe for intsense frustration. I don't know what it is about paperbacks, but they really, really want to be shut.

 

So after an enraging lunch hour of losing my page, dropping my book and getting special sauce on my tie I realised I needed a different strategy. The following lunchtime I called into the little newsagent next door to the sports shop and bought a copy of 2000 AD #527. I had friends who read it, I knew I liked Sci-Fi, so I figured I'd like it, and far more importantly I knew that when I opened it it would lie flat on the damn table.

 

 

And that was it. The obsession that became my career began becuase I didn't want to have to hold my book open during lunch. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if that issue of 2000 AD had been rubbish - but it wasn't. Back in 1987 'Tooth  was at the very top of its game. But it was also weekly, not daily. So I had to find other comics for subsequent lunch hours.

 

And this was 1987. Comics distribution wasn't organised in any way at all that I could fathom. My Saturdays became a quest around the town's newsagents in search of whatever comics I could find - back then you couldn't be sure to find the next issue of a title, so I got used to having to fill in the blanks with my imagination, but I discovered a whole bunch of characters.

 

Mostly Marvel to start with, for some reason they were easier to find. Spider-ManMoon-KnightThe AvengersIron ManCloak and Dagger so many more. I also found American reprints of old 2000 AD stories published by Eagle Comics and Quality Comics which served to give me some education in 2000 AD history.

 

I lapped it up for a while, but as I entered sixth form I was beginning to lose interest, and I might have given up then, but two things happened almost simultaneously that reinforced my passion. First I discovered Batman, and then I dicovered that although Doncaster didn't have a comic shop, Sheffield, mere tens of minutes away by train, had two.

 

I'm not sure why I picked up my first issue of Batman. Prior to doing so my only experience of the character had been the Adam West show from the sixties and the cartoon from the seventies. At the time I remembered both as being pretty silly, and considered Batman, with his cape getting in the way and those ridiculous ears, to be the opitome of everything that was bad about superheroes.

 

 But I guess there were no other comics in the Newsagents that day, so I want home with a copy of Batman #433 an issue I've mentioned before in the Waffle, because it's a very odd book. It's silent.

 

Honestly, initially I thought it was some kind of printing error. In the whole issue only two words are uttered. (Commissioner Gordon tells someone to "Get Out".)

 

Jim Aparo - a veteran Batman artist who is not nearly as well known or revered as he should be - tells the story, of various sports people and celebrities being found dead dressed in a Batman costume using just the images.

 

It's brilliantly done, and I made sure I got over to the comics shop in Sheffield to pick up Batman #434The Many Deaths of the Batman is a pretty good story (it's more than twenty five years since I read it last, but I'd be prepared to bet that it still holds up) but it was actually a letter from another British fan published in Batman #434 that really caught my attention. It referred to a story from a few issues earlier called Dead Letter Office which dealt with the loss of a child and referenced the equally recent death of Jason Todd, the second Robin - an event which had created some serious ripples in comics circles. Killing major characters was an usual thing to do in any case, but killing them after a 'phone vote was even more controversial.

 

There was something about the letter though. The kid who wrote it seemed so invested in the characters - it made me realise that there was a lot going on in the series. I haven't missed an issue of Batman since.

 

From there things spiralled. I went to University, met other people who loved comics, including my best mate and through her became obsessed with Neil Gaiman's Sandman. (I was already a slightly pretentious Goth when I started Uni, I was easy meat for Gaiman's tales of The Endless...) In the letters column of one issue of that comic there was a letter from a guy in America who was setting up Dream Lovers, a Sandman fanzine, and was asking for people to get in touch. 

 

I did, as did many others, and suddenly I was part of an international network of comics fans. That doesn't sound like much now, but this was pre-World Wide Web, and a long way before Social Media. It was like stepping into another world. Dream Lovers only lasted a couple of years, but I'm still in touch with many of the people I met through it. It was a great time, and something I don't think you could do today.

 

And so the nineties passed. Not perhaps the best decade in the history of comics, but it was the decade of my twenties, and a decade that was, in all senses of the word "Interesting" in comics. The UK Convention scene was taking off and while not all if it could be described as "good", there was a heck of a lot happening. I was there for the beginning of Image Comics, the Death of Superman, the launch of Vertigo Comics and more die-cut, foil enhanced, embossed, glow in the dark, animated, pop-up variant covers than you can shake a stick at.

 

But at some point even I had to get a real job, so I decided to train as a teacher. And that's why, in 1999, I bought a PC and got onto that Internet thing people were talking about. That brought with it the wonders of email and easy contact with all of those overseas contacts I'd made throught Dream Lovers. One such friend had just started writing a column (we didn't call them Blogs back then) for a New Zealand website called Silver Bullet Comics. I got him to make some introductions and was invited to write a column of my own.

 

FoolBritannia was born.

 

Over a couple of years I developed a bit of a reputation. Fool was part me rambling on (any of the Wednesday Waffle blogs would fit right in there), part review, and people I met at conventions started to appreciate what I'd said about them. I started to get review copies, I met publishers, writers, artists, it was great!

 

But I was also teaching full time, and slowly the requirements of my job began to eat up all of my time. FoolBritannia began to slip, and in the end had to be abandoned because there was no time to write it, and I was reading so few comics I didn't really have anything to say.

 

But in 2016 I was looking for a way out of teaching and coincidentally around that time the owner of my local comic store was looking to sell up.

 

It's funny how things work out, but work out they did. And that's my journey into comics. From an impulse purchase nearly thirty two years ago to standing behind the counter of a small business. 

 

How about you? What brought you into comics?

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