I find it very exciting to discover the existence of comics fandom. Most of the early fanzines I buy have ads in them from dealers – at last a reliable way of tracking down and collecting the comics I’ve missed! But although I do buy some titles by mail order I retreat very quickly from the idea of being a completist. Both the effort involved and the cost seem quite daunting.
More important is the discovery of like-minded souls, who are writing articles, news stories, reviews about comics. Some have connections with fans and publishers in the USA, and are beginning to import those titles which are not properly distributed in the UK. Some of these names will become pivotal in the UK comics industry. Nick Landau and Richard Burton will go on to work on 2000 A.D., and Nick will also help set up the Forbidden Planet comics store (later a chain). In the late seventies Dez Skinn revamps Marvel’s UK publishing subsidiary, and then sets up his own line of comics.
And as well as fanzines, there are conventions. And comic marts, the comic book equivalent of record fairs. And at the time one single comics and SF store, Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed . This is all incredibly exciting, and you would think that my young nerdish self would plunge into this new world. Well, you would be right-ish. I subscribe to (and devour) some of the better fanzines. I read the names of these people, not much older than myself, who are confident enough to band together and create UK comics fandom, and later a burgeoning UK publishing and retail industry – Burton, Landau, Skinn, Martin Lock, Trevor Hughes, Rob Barrow, Lee Hopewell and many more. I envy their ability to voice their opinions in print, and long to do so myself. But I am too frightened to take any but the most faltering steps into this world.
Partly this is lack of confidence in my own ability to write – I am also intimidated by the idea that people have opinions – I am much too scared to have opinions. My father’s negative views on comics are also influential – while I sneak an ever-increasing quantity into the house, I make sure he never catches me reading them. If he’s around, I read them in my bedroom – and indeed spend more and more time in there, even on the hottest and sunniest of days. But strongest of all is the fear of being visible at all, of being noticed. Because I think that if people notice me, they won’t like me.
At that time I have a conviction that I am ugly, or unnoticeable, or both. Mostly I assume my face is almost featureless, that if schoomates meet me out of context – in town or on the bus for example – they won’t recognize me without the visual aid of being seated in uniform at my usual desk. Looking back now it’s clear to me that even a few years earlier, before I hit my teens, I had a better opinion of myself, but now things seem very different. I don’t know how to be a teenager – something I have in common, I later realize, with a lot of my peers, but in particular the strain of being a trans teenager has more and more effect on my general self-esteem, making me reluctant to draw attention to myself, or to voice my opinions. Changing that about me will prove a long, slow process.
So comics fandom, which could have been an exciting other world for me, seems untouchable and unreachable, as I am too scared to fully participate. I have one LoC (Letter of Comment) published in a fanzine, but that’s about it. The first time I visit Dark They Were … (which is located in scary Soho) my mother accompanies me and I am too scared to go in, although eventually I become a regular customer. I see the UK comics scene blossom before me, at a distance.
It’s not until I’m at university that I gather up enough courage to attend a comics convention. In many ways it is not a huge success for me, but at one stage I meet, and talk briefly with Mike Lake, Nick Landau’s business partner. A few years later, when looking for my first job after university, I capitalize on that meeting, which is very unlike me at the time. A few years later, despite my earlier fear of fandom, I find myself working in the comics industry thanks to that chance meeting – a tale for another time.