Ah, Stuart. Looking back at the turbulent first half of 1990 I must take care what conclusions I draw. It is not, however, a marriage made in heaven. To begin with, we both have very different ideas of the way Speakeasy should develop. My intention is to serve the hard-core comics fan better, based on my experience as a fan and in the industry. It’s my view that the readers are already happy with Speakeasy and they just need a better-resourced version of what they like. Stuart’s interests, on the other hand, tend towards the intersection of comics and music, which is at its strongest if you observe similarities between indie publishing and indie music. In 1990 that’s an emerging trend of which Deadline (whose flagship strip is Tank Girl) is the best example. But Deadline is not a big seller in comic shops. So we differ, but given our relationship we don’t have the luxury of being able to agree to differ.
Relatively speaking also, Stuart has time on his hands, while I am constantly up to my elbows in production chores. I recognize that in some ways this
is a comfort to me – I can avoid facing up to the problems of the situation by burying myself in the monthly process of putting a magazine together. Essentially, however, we are pushing in completely different directions. It possibly doesn’t show that much in the magazine because, were we to embrace the indie pathway we would struggle to fill our monthly pages.
John Brown likes Stuart because he is charismatic. The fact that he won’t do what I ask him to is neither here nor there to John. On the other hand he likes the fact that I am, indeed, able to put together a reasonably professional looking monthly magazine virtually single-handed. I, on the other hand, start to dread the days that Stuart is in the office, not least because he argues with virtually every request I make of him. To be fair to him, though, he is very into comics. By this time I am pretty bored with them, tempted back by the opportunities of working in such a successful company, opportunities I feel less and less able to take advantage of.
In 1990 the British comics industry offers a fair few opportunities to get drunk, and I take advantage of most of them. Instead of building networking opportunities at these events, I chat to people I know already and knock the beer back. At a gallery exhibition I am needleslly rude to Jonathon Ross, himself a big comics fan (sorry Jonathan). John Brown has the bright idea of introducting Speakeasy Awards, to compete with the already established industry Eagle Awards. So that spring at a convention in Glasgow, I preside nervously over the awards ceremony while three of the Viz boys – who I meet for the first and only time that day – hand out the trophies, which consist of the “S” of our logo mounted on a red acrylic half-brain (honestly), and which fall apart at the least provocation (I know the feeling).
To be fair to Stuart once again, thanks to his self-confidence we are able to line up a wider range of reviewers and contributors, which helps with the flow of editorial content. I seem to recall we even publish a relatively early piece by Mark Kermode at one point. Occasionally I surface from production chores to interview some fairly significant creators, including Dave Gibbons, Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane. But my heart isn’t especially in it. I get a bit more motivated when we stray into other media. The big movie that summer is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, whose characters are brought to life by the animatronics skill of Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop. The workshop is based in Hampstead and I have a friend who works there, so I am able to interview the effects team and take some behind-the-scenes photos.
I am a huge admirer of Henson and we manage to negotiate an interview with him. However, a few days before this is due to take place he sadly (and completedly unexpectedly) dies. Instead of a planned interview I find myself writing a heartfelt tribute and obituary.
The constant battles with Stuart start to grind me down. He of course doesn’t know that I am struggling with health and psychological issues, with low hormone levels and my continued cautious participation in group therapy, now even more difficult to get to as I need to get across to Mile End from Fulham in the rush hour. In desperation, I finally talk to John and Vic Lime and explain that I have health problems and would like to work two days a week from home. Naturally they ask what is the matter, so I find myself telling him and Vic Lime rather more about my physical history than I would wish to, while leaving it to them to draw whatever conclusions they wish about my psychological state. They are, of course, sympathetic and agree to my suggestion. The arrangement reduces the number of stressful tube journeys (and stressful encounters with my deputy) as I start editing text on my trusty Mac Plus. But what looks like a necessary breathing space from one angle can seem like running away from another. When I am at the Boathouse I rarely socialize with other JBP staff, even though I like many of them.
Speakeasy sales hold up amazingly wall once Comics International arrives. But they don’t (can’t) increase as long as we are only sold in comic shops. a self-limiting market. John becomes a little uneasy about this – I don’t think he’s losing money, but neither is he making it. And the production economics only hold up if I continue to put the whole thing together myself. I get better and better at doing this, but the sheer work involved never allows me a chance to stop and think about how to take the magazine forward.
John agrees to fund for me to go to the San Diego Comicon, the main annual industry gathering even in those days, but not as big as it is now. I need a new passport in order to go, so I have to get a photograph taken. Bearded, with sunken eyes and strained features, I look like Brian Keenan on his release from imprisonment.
As San Diego looms I make escape plans. The events listing market is growing, and I have an interview for a company which produces listings. I don’t get the job. Then I see an ad in The Guardian for editorial staff to work at Radio Times, which is about to go through big changes. I have always wanted to work for the BBC, and so I apply. I am interviewed one afternoon in central London and to my amazement I am offered the job, working on the UK’s best-selling magazine! Although it is only a short term contract, I barely hesitate before accepting.
I am so keen to go that I time my resignation badly, doing myself out of the trip to California. Stuart goes instead, and is also appointed Editor of Speakeasy. I will have more to say about that ennoblement in due course. As for me, I am about to move upmarket jobwise, and beginning to at least touch on some important issues back in group therapy.