After Christmas we get down to the faintly terrifying business of putting the first new-style Speakeasy together. The reassuring bit is that we are fairly confident about the editorial content (and also start planning ahead for articles for future issues). We introduce a “Shipping Guide” – listings for all new comics to be published that month (no small task). Stuart offers to write a monthly two-page gossip section which he calls Graffiti – effectively a transplant of the kind of stuff the music press does but focussing on the fringe elements of our nerdy little world – the fringe of a fringe.
In production terms I have a bit of a breathing space as Titan Studios, groaning with personnel, will handle the page layout chores which in due course will fall on my shoulders. From the JPB advertising team, the redoubtable Ronnie Hackston is allocated the task of selling ad space for us.He proves a joy to work with, although every month we reach an uneasy point where we are not sure how many pages of ads we have and therefore we are equally unsure how many editorial pages we will need.
I find myself visiting my former employers, Titan Distributors, to encourage an increase over their normal Acme Press order numbers for the new, glossy Speakeasy. Accompanied by Vic Lime I find myself cutting a deal with my old colleague and chum Nick Parry-Jones. Titan also has a rival by this time – Neptune Comics Distribution, based in Leicester. So Vic and myself trek up there as well securing a rather smaller order. Within a few years Neptune will be taken over, giving the mighty Diamond Comic Distributors from the USA a foothold in the UK market.
The Acme version of Speakeasy has tended to reproduce existing artwork on the cover, and there is a strong sense that we want to go for original art. However, because we are limited to the direct-sales market (i.e. comics shops) and not the mass newsagent market, this is one of many things John Brown and Vic want to pay next to nothing for. Such personal industry contacts as I had have started to go cold, but we have inherited the magical Acme address book, which is invaluable. Nonetheless I flounder somewhat at this initial challenge. Happily Stuart is on good terms with artist Simon Bisley, and manages to extract an unpublished image of Marvel’s Wolverine from him for our first cover.
Rian Hughes’ design for the magazine is great, but makes it look very different. I’ll try and reproduce a cover in a later post. Gone is the home-made feel of a magazine that has never shaken off its fanzine roots. The first issue shows off high production values in terms of design, imagery and the new paper stock, disguising the precariously thin editorial resources. As the year progresses I am struck by how the other areas of JBP have – not money to burn, exactly, but certainly enough. The decision to restrict Speakeasy to the direct-sales market is understandable – few of us have any confidence at the time that a magazine on comics could prosper in the mass-market – but limits our resources terribly.
In some ways January is a month of grace. The relationship between myself as Editor and Stuart as Deputy has yet to fully form. Titan Studios’ accomplished job with Rian’s design keeps the production heat off me for a while. We are looking forward to a trip to the comics festival in Angoulême, France which will include an opportunity to plug our work and gather some useful interviews. Then, separate from all the production and editorial challenges that are about to hit me like a collapsing, encyclopedia-filled bookcase, we are blindsided by an unexpected development.
Early in 2000 UK comic store owners receive an information pack about a rival news magazine, to be called Comics International. The pack contain the important information that the magazine is coming soon and also that it will be free. Early in my editorship, this is an unnerving development. A letter which accompanies the pack gives a swanky address in Oxford Street, central London, but does not identify the publisher – it is simply signed “The Editors”. The industry rumour mill is working overtime, but no-one seems to know who is behind this new venture.
Thus it is that I embark on my first and only piece of “investigative reporting” – although it doesn’t take much investigating to get the bottom of things. One crisp winter morning at JBP I telephone the number on the letter. When the call is answered, I recognize who is speaking instantly. I pretend to be the owner of a new comic shop who is interested in advertising in Comics International and have a jolly chat about advertising rates and so on. I hazily recall giving my home address so that the publishers can send me more information.
As the conversation draws to a close, I innocently ask whether the person I am speaking to has any history in the comics industry. A little, he says. Would I have heard of you, I ask? Oh no, no, comes the reply, I’m not very well known, you’d never have heard of me. Throughout the conversation, the speaker cagily avoids revealing his name. But after eight years working in the industry myself, the voice is unmistakeable – from the first moment of the conversation I know that I am speaking to Dez Skinn …