Some of the roots of my comic book dealer lifestyle date back to my first “real” business venture in 1996: Santa Claus Ltd.
One of my best friends, Richard Pipe, told me he’d taken his kids to see Santa Claus in Debenhams.
Debenhams was (and as far as I know, still is) a department store in central London. Every year, thousands of poor parents line up for hours, so their kids can sit on a sweaty and stressed actor’s lap for ten seconds.
Richard said, “It was a nightmare. Why can’t Santa come to us? That’s the point of Santa Claus, isn’t it?”
BAM! Right there, I knew my calling.
I would start a company, hire Santa actors, and we’d go on the road.
We’d take bookings and visit kids at parties and their homes.
I’d be RICH!
Then Nick Eyriey, friend and editor of another of the magazines, said to me:
“If you want some publicity, you should change your name legally to Santa Claus.”
I called a local law firm. To my surprise and delight, I discovered I could change my name to Santa Claus for about $50.
My Life as Santa Claus
It was briefly fun to be Santa.
Once I was stopped by a policeman a week before Christmas. He asked for my name and address and I told him, “Santa Claus,” then handed over my license to prove it. While he was checking it out, I said, “My friends have all laughed and said how funny it would be if a policeman pulls me over sometime.”
He didn’t even smile. He just looked at my car. “Do you get pulled over by the police often then?”
Who says policemen don’t have a sense of humor?
The name change story was a big deal, locally at least, and I made it to the front page of the local papers, and on radio.
The story was also published in a tabloid newspaper called The Sun. I later backed myself to be Christmas Number One in the pop charts at 1000-1.
Santa’s Many Business Mistakes
Apart from having fun telling people I was called Santa…
…smiling politely when they asked how Rudolph was, and whether I really only came once a year…
I did everything wrong that’s it’s possible to do wrong.
- I booked local radio ads. (I was paying those debts back for years.)
- I printed thousands of fliers and had them delivered door to door.
- I found some Santas and hired them.
- I bought some really bad (probably stolen) toys from a small-time crook to give to the kids.
We got bookings. In fact, for several years after I gave up the stupid endeavor, I still got calls for repeat bookings from a couple of people.
On the bright side, nobody accused me of inappropriate touching during my time as Santa. Not that there was anything to accuse me of.
But one of my editors (I was writing freelance again at the time) warned me that it was a possibility. “You won’t like THAT kind of publicity,” he said.
Was I 30 Pounds a day worse off during my time as Santa? Probably.
But what it did for me was get me out of being editor of Gifts Today.
For which I am eternally grateful.
No Rest For the Wicked
Without a job, I was forced to either declare bankruptcy, or reach agreement with my creditors.
I offered to pay each credit card company ten Pounds per month. I stayed at the apartment in Luton, drinking tea, eating whatever the local supermarket had discounted that day, and writing a novel.
It was a very bad novel. It was called No Rest for the Wicked.
It was about a man who wanted to die, but was too chickenshit to use any of the more traditional methods. So he decided to keep himself awake until he died.
(I like to this of this as my Dark Period.)
I wrote the first draft in 30 days. Briefly I toyed with the idea of staying awake until I’d done the first draft. That would have been a fun thing to tell interviewers when it was a best-seller.
But deep down, I knew nobody beyond Richard Pipe and a few other friends would ever read it. (None of them finished reading it, either.)
Still, I’d done more than I’d ever done before with my writing. I’d completed a manuscript.
Nothing else had changed. I was still broke. I wasn’t working for Malcolm Naish (“the man”) anymore, but not working for the man meant not making regular money. I still had freelance gigs.
But once again, I desperately needed cash.
Enter the Origin of a Comic Book Dealer: eBay UK
One afternoon, my mom called to say she needed me to clear my stuff out of her attic.
I said, “What stuff?”
She said, “All these old Asterix books, Dungeons and Dragons stuff, and Scalextric.” (Slot cars and track.)
No comic books, but I’d soon start buying those.
I loaded up my car and brought it all to Luton. It sat in my bedroom for a while. I was playing low-stakes Internet poker (old habits die hard) and chatting between hands. One of the players asked me if I’d heard of eBay?
The company was launching in the UK. For a brief period, they had no listing or final value fees.
I went to eBay and poked around.
Wow! People actually paid good money for junk like the stuff my mom asked me to get out of the way.
I began listing it.
People began buying it.
I didn’t even have a digital camera at first. Pictures were not a requirement back then.
After I sold all the crap my mom had had, I started buying more of it from classified ads and garage sales. Before long, my apartment was full of old toys and magazines, figurines (Warhammer) and anything else I could turn a profit on.
I wasn’t a comic book dealer… yet. But that was coming soon.