This is part two of the origin story of my dealing in vintage comics. (Part one is here.)
During one of my mother’s many periods when life didn’t work out (she was on her way to divorce #2 by the time I was eight), I moved out of London to live with my grandparents.
Luckily my grandmother was young and energetic.
She spoiled me of course. She just about kept me under control.
In those days before video games, kids spent about 80 percent of their free time outside.
The other 20 percent, they were babysat by TV. My best friend, Julian Bamford, and I used to do both.
We’d torture ants with magnifying glasses and hot water.
Why Did Action Man Have No Penis?
We’d throw our Action Man toys (the British equivalent of GI Joe) off the flat roof, with plastic bags tied with strings under their armpits to act as parachutes.
(The doll would fall to the ground, most likely breaking a leg or being decapitated, and finally the “parachute” would open and cover him like a shroud.)
We’d ride our bikes up and down the road, hit stones over the top of houses with tennis rackets, and try to catch birds underneath garden sieve traps rigged up with string.
Several frogs met a grisly death during that period.
(But I turned out okay in the end. Kinda.)
The rest of the time, sweaty and covered in dirt and grass, we’d grab snacks and sit in front of the telly.
This is Why I Love Batman Comics
Every afternoon, the old Adam West and Burt Ward Batman shows were re-run on British airwaves.
(Around that time, Corgi brought out toys to cash in on the new Bat-Mania. Julian had the deluxe Bat-Mobile, Bat-Boat and Bat-Copter set. His mom threw them out a few years ago.)
Julian and I loved that show. Batman became my favorite comic book superhero from that moment on.
For a while, I wanted to be the person who played Batman in the TV series.
Then for an even shorter while, I wanted to be James Bond.
After that, I wanted to draw the Batman comic books.
When I realized I was a better writer than artist, I wanted to write them.
In the end, I found it was fun to buy and sell them as a comic book dealer…
Chapter Two: Martin Smith
Fast-forward to 1991. I had left high school and was, once again, living with my grandmother.
By this time, my grandfather had died of a heart attack. I was in the house that day, revising for exams. He was sleeping in bed when it happened.
Ironically, I was listening to Take Your Breath Away by Berlin on Radio One.
My first job out of school was reviewing video games for a local publishing company. The magazines were called YC (Your Commodore) and Your Amiga. They were edited by Rik Henderson and Adrian Pumphrey. Both cool guys.
Adrian told me he used to sleep on the circle line in the daytime, and work at night, when the publishing company was based in London.
It was cheaper than renting a bedsit.
Adrian was also a kind of superhero, trained by the government to be a first responder in the event of a nuclear war. (I’m glad his skills were never tested.)
A few months after I joined, the magazines were sold to somebody called Hasnain Walji. His company was based in Milton Keynes, and I didn’t want to work in Milton Keynes, so I quit.
My First Editor Job: BT MicroNet
About the same time, I discovered that a local office published an online computer magazine called MicroNet.
At the time, MicroNet was owned by British Telecom (BT), and it was pre-Internet.
You had to dial in using a modem. At the time, 2600 Baud was the cutting edge.
To give you some idea of how slow that is, it would have taken you several days to watch a porn clip — if online porn had existed back then.
Large images loaded line by line. It was like a digital brass rubbing.
It’s so long ago that CompuServe was a big deal.
Not too many people remember MicroNet. I began as a staff writer (freelance), but soon took over editing the ST Base.
(Not too many people remember the Atari ST, either. I didn’t know shit about the ST. I was an Amiga man. But I could write about anything I was asked to.)
I was fast, young and living with my grandmother.
I’d shamelessly ask for work from anybody who could pay me, and write anything they wanted.
For me, at the time, I was making good money and had nothing to spend it on.
Origin and First Appearance of Martin Smith
One day, while wandering back from the canteen, I saw this tall, chunky, dark-haired guy reading a super-thick book at his desk.
Yes, you guessed it, it was the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
I asked if I could have a look.
All at once, I was taken back to 1970s London, the Stroller of DOOM!!! and my lost childhood.
I could hear Adam West deliver some cheesy one-liner to a guy in a purple suit and top hat before socking him in the chops.
Martin Smith had a liking for Dove ice-cream bars, which explained the chunky, and an obsession with Uncanny X-Men comic books, which explained the Overstreet.
He had a (then seemingly impossible) full run from #1 up.
I thought, “He must make loads of money to afford that!”
These days we usually have a few #1 X-Men comics in stock, or at least in the CGC submission queue…
…But back then, the Marvel keys were just a fantasy to me.
Like Kim Bassinger.