This comic con memoir is part three of my “origin story” of becoming a comic book dealer. Part one is here. Part two is here.

See later installments of this story: Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

I grilled Martin Smith for a while. He told me that he was going to a comic book show (the Brits weren’t using the word “convention” back then) soon.

Could I join him? Of course.

We met up in London and soon separated, and I lost myself in the rows of long boxes. My first comic con. I remember being shocked that I had to pay £2 to get in. LOL! How much is the entry to a comic con in North America these days? North of $50 for sure.

It was a pretty small affair. A good old comic con like your daddy used to attend, before the media shit and cosplay took over.

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This is what a comic con used to look like. Dealers. Comics. Money changing hands

I was amazed to see walls of Star Wars figures, still on original cards, and loads of “wall books” pinned to, er, well, you know, the walls.

The Fantastic Four at London Comic Con: First Appearance in My Life Since the Bronze Age

Fantastic Four was always my favorite poison when I was reading those beaters from the Stroller of DOOM!!!

I couldn’t remember much about the issues I’d read back in 70s London, but they were all great.

At the con, I soon scooped up some random mid-grade back issues, including a somewhat optimistically-graded VF- copy of FF #100. Briefly, I stared at an FF #1 up on the wall. I can remember it being described as VG-FN and they were asking £800 at the comic con.

The first edition of the Fantastic Four -- the book which began the Marvel Age of Comics. I've bought and sold a lot, but never owned one 'for keeps'

The first edition of the Fantastic Four — the book which began the Marvel Age of Comics. I saw my first at a London comic con in 1991. I’ve bought and sold a few, but never owned one ‘for keeps’

The last sale of an FF #1 in 5.0 was $7,700. That’s about £4,500. Which would have been a shitty return after 25 years.

In those days, there was no CGC, and people still READ comic books.

I dutifully bought a long box, bags and boards. But without eBay or any local comic book stores, there wasn’t much fuel to feed the fire.

A year or two later, in a cash crunch, I sold them all. Back then, I’d sell my soul if it meant getting by, and in a way that’s exactly what I did. A little bit of me was tied to those comic books, long-lost friends found again after decades.

And I threw them under the bus.

Fast-Forward Five Years: Luton and the Lotus

I’ve always hated working for people.

I like being in a team. I just don’t like having a boss.

There’s always one dick in every companyIt’s like there’s a DickU somewhere in the world, handing out dickplomas and teaching proven misery tactics.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always the boss who’s a dick. Sometimes it’s just a person who’s not directly your manager, but he always has power of some sort.

Dick power.

(John B., I’m looking at you. And the tie you always tucked into the waistband of your pants for some reason…)

Then there are the rules. I get that sometimes, we need rules.

Many people can’t do anything WITHOUT rules.

But not all people are created equal.

I’m not one of the people who responds well to being told what time to arrive, when to have lunch, what time to stop working.

When the mood takes me, I work like a beast.

Around the time I joined Lema Publishing, my last full-time job, it was 1995, my first marriage had ended after less than two years, and yes, again, I was once more living with my grandmother.

Gifts Today: The Gift That Just Kept Giving

I was initially assistant editor of a trade magazine called Gifts Today.

It’s painful to admit that. It’s about as far from being a comic book dealer as it’s possible to get…

Gifts Today was a magazine only because it resembled one from a few feet away. Once you opened it, if you could get past the generous sprinkling of spelling mistakes, you’d discover that it was a thin excuse for selling advertising.

The company really felt editorial was a necessary evil, and it was all about keeping the tills ringing with ad bookings. (Sound business model before Google.)

My boss, Malcolm Naish, drove a Lotus Esprit, which was really cool. I think it was banana yellow.

You have to have courage to drive a yellow Lotus Esprit. Malcolm Naish had lots of it. Great car, great guy

You have to have courage to drive a yellow Lotus Esprit. Malcolm Naish had lots of it. Great car, great guy

I liked him a lot.

But the first thing I told was, “Nothing goes into this magazine until it goes through me. If this… thing… has my name on it, I want to be proud of it.”

I think he was taken aback when I stood in his office and told him that. He respected me for being blunt. (I hope.)

Anyway, about a year and a half after joining, and being promoted to editor, I was ready to kill myself.

Nothing Sucks Like an Eletrolux. Except My Life

At the time, I was living in Luton, which was voted “Worst town to live in the UK” three years running.

Its claim to fame was the Eletrolux factory.

Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux. Except maybe for the street workers near the casino

Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux. Except maybe for the street workers near the casino in Luton

(“Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” was their slogan. Genius.)

Luton was an hour through rush-hour traffic to the office. I was addicted to gambling at the time. I’d get home, eat, then hit the casino and play poker until two or three in the morning. Then I’d wake up at eight and drive, half-comatose, to Lema Publishing.

The morning would be spent drinking gallons of instant coffee, and hating myself.

I was in loads of debt.

I had 11 credit cards at one point.

It was easy back then. They’d not only offer you extra cards, but the existing ones would send you checkbooks.

You could write a check from one credit card to pay off the minimum payment on the others.

One day I stopped ignoring the credit card bills, sat down and did some math.

Every day I went to the office, I was £30 WORSE off.

Clearly I had to come up with a master plan. Something had to change.

I was smart. I had energy and ideas.

Surely I could come up with a plan, some kind of genius way to get myself out of this mess?

NEXT TIME:

Santa Claus Delivers the Gift of Going Solo… and This Will, Eventually, Be About Comic Cons and Comic Book Dealing 🙂

See later installments of this story: Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6