I can’t remember much about my first meeting with Stuart Green. We meet up for a drink somewhere and size each other up – he assessing me perhaps more skilfully than I assess him. He’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll to look at, unlike my conservatively-dressed self. Lots of black, biker jacket in general, skinny (though not especially tall), a striking face with a shock of dishevelled curly hair, and generally a cigarette hanging from his lips.
The discussion has faded from my memory. I seem to recall he is reasonably respectful and talk between us is mutually cautious. For some reaaon, he will not be able to start work at John Brown Publishing until some time after I do, and he is employed part-time. On the other hand, he only has to write. I have to write, edit, and proofread each issue, and after the first JBP issue I will be laying the thing out as well. At the end of our meeting, I don’t yet know what to make of Stuart, or what sort of a relationship we are likely to have.
I start work at JBP on December 1st, 1989. I make the first of many long journeys down to Hammersmith on the tube, followed by a 20 minute walk down to the Boathouse. Making the journey to and from Fulham five days a week quickly becomes wearing. Although the start date was agreed when I was offered the job, no-one is expecting me. John Brown turns up an hour or so later and greets me with a cheery “Hello! I forgot you were starting today”.
So there is not very much for me to do. Or, to put it another way, there is loads for me to do, but I am not quite sure where to begin. I can’t remember whether my (frankly rather nice) Mac system is ready for me on day one or not but there are certainly one or two days of thumb-twiddling. I spend the first few days planning the contents of the initial issue, which we have decided will not, in any case, come out until late January. Acme have some interviews in house so I am not starting from scratch. The scale of the task is somewhat daunting though. In Acme days I only had to put the news pages together. Now I have to assemble a 72-page monthly magazine with little admin support.
It’s probably worth making the point reasonably clearly that I am probably not up to the job. When I start that is. By the time I leave I defnitely am up to the job in skills terms, but by that time I have also recognized that as conceived it’s probably too much for one person to cope with. This one person anyway.
Apart from the UKCAC88 “special”, the Acme Speakeasy is traditionally printed on fairly low-grade newsprint. The JBP Speakeasy will be on slick paper and boast a significant redesign. John has employed comics artist and designer Rian Hughes to supervise this. As it’s explained to me, they will pay Rian to come up with a design and each month he will put the cover (which requires colour separations and other skills I don’t possess) together. For the first issue, Titan Studios (the design end of Titan Books) will layout the interior pages and produce camera-ready artwork, and then subsequently it’s intended that I follow the template.
Rian is a lovely chap, but at the time I find his impressive level of skill intimidating. I think several of us at JBP look at his proposed designs for Speakeasy and opt for one that we like. He does, I think then (and still do now) a great job. His idea for the cover looks great. He designs a main logo, and section logos for the interior. He specifies typefaces and how the interior pages should be laid out. After the first issue he will sit down with me and run me through the layouts, and then it’s up to me.
The rest of December is the lull before the storm. JBP organizes a jolly Christmas dinner, complete with Secret Santa present-swapping. I buy my colleague Bev a pink Cadillac. Toy. After Christmas there will be the challenge of putting the first issue together, forward planning the next issues, and the arrival of full-blown Stuart. I am a bit frightened, but as Aragorn once said to Bilbo, “not nearly frightened enough” …