Friday, 12 December 2014

I stayed exactly where I was and suffered endless Feltz

Brief tangent/explanation... I mentioned that "something happened" - that "something" ALMOST killed this blog, I'll have you know! Try and make this as easy to follow as possible, it might take a few goes, but it's worth a try.

Okay, back when I first started "covering" these adult comics, in the early part of 2013 (my but hasn't that gone quick), I wasn't expecting many people to be interested. The fact was, there was next to nothing about these titles on the Internet already, and all of the comics-history books I'd read up to that point had dismissed the whole scene in a paragraph or less. Fairly tragic, and I'm not claiming any heroics here, but I felt that SOMEONE ought to do it. Dozens and dozens of diverse titles, heaps of talented artists and writers and hundreds of original characters. Well, time went on, and slowly, slowly, the folk who made these comics in the first place started to pop up in the comments sections, and shared all sorts of interesting "behind-the-scenes" background information. What began as my gut reactions and personal opinions on these comics slowly started becoming more of an "informative" process, and so, whilst initially I'd choose aspects of each comic that I liked and didn't like, looking at each in turn, as time went on I began going more for just the good stuff - I really wanted to show the wider world just how good these unfairly marginalized comics could be. Well, maybe not the wider world - more like the 150-250 people who visit this blog each day - but it's a start. And I was really enjoying it too.

And then, a few days ago, "the past" caught up with me. I'm only human, there's lots of things I like and lots of things I don't like. One of the things I don't like is a comic that a lot of people had told me they'd really enjoyed back in the day - a comic called Spit!


Masterminded by Graham Hey, Spit! was one of the more successful adult comics. Being a plucky 29-year-old, I wasn't around to enjoy it properly "at the time" - but I've still read a big pile of them. Looking back at the review I did, it DOES seem like I highlighted more of the stuff I disliked than stuff I liked, but there's still a fair few good bits in there - the entirety of Nigel Maughan's output, Barney's Rubble by Chris Whitehead, Whitley Baywatch by Lew Stringer, Jimmy Bowen by Paul Palmer, Big Fat Lass by Michael Hingley, Pete's Pranks by Anthony Smith, Sefton Ward: Paranormal Detective by "Gash" - yet mostly, and honestly, the vast majority of Spit! just doesn't amuse me. And a few days ago, Mr. Hey found this out, and spoke his mind.

Before we go any further, I am NOT trying to paint Mr. Hey as a villain - he voiced himself in a friendly and professional manner, and didn't call me a twat once despite the terrible vitriol I'd expressed at his work. Rather, he gave a detailed, behind-the-scenes account of what was going on at the time - most of which was news to me. Over to Graham, now:

Even though you seem to slag off virtually everything, it shows that you did know the market at the time. We were friends with Viz, yes, we were selling off the back of it, but the artwork (obviously not mine!) was excellent and fitted in with the idea that "anyone could get stuff published" which was part of the appeal. At Spit! we paid decent rates, usually on time, and treated everybody nicely. In fact, I can tell you that I am still friends with pretty much everyone who worked for us - yes, surprise surprise, I am a decent guy. Loads of comics failed to pay their contributors (I was not paid by Top Banana and about fifteen other adult comics). Spit! had a good reputation despite the fact you don't like it. It used to sell about 50,000 copies, so was one of the best selling adult comics. When Zit took us to court, to effectively put us out of business, we won, they went into liquidation and set up the next day. We were awarded full costs of 70K, but as they liquidated (again) we had to pay the costs ourselves - yet we still paid our staff - and some of them relied heavily on our payments. Top marks to people like Lew Stringer, Paul Palmer, Chris Whitehead, Paul Kelly, Nigel Maughan, all put a big effort in, and we had a loyal readership. I tried to stick by the guys who helped us out by saying stuff like "Pay me a few weeks late if that helps you..." I won't forget those guys.

Of my shite, Teenage Mum went on to be a daily cartoon strip in the Daily Star, and Chris Whitehead and Paul Kelly also helped to write a weekly comedy section in the newspaper which ran for several years. If you want to slag off comics - why not slag off the frauds, liars, cheats and all those who ripped good guys off - who were just trying to make a living of sorts. We were all young lads trying to get on the cartoon ladder (OK, maybe not Lew, as he was already successful) but Paul Palmer - top geezer, worked in the NHS, so did Whitehead, Nigel in the Police force. We all just tried to do something. Zit also failed to pay me over 10K for freelance work - which is why I set up Spit!, cos I was sick of fraudsters. Most of the other cartoonists were not paid by them either. On Spit! I remember paying some fees out of my own pocket in order to keep it going when the court case was going on. I left after about 15 issues or so as Express Newspapers asked me to write a comedy section for them. Paul Kelly took over as Editor. It was fun to work on, although drove me mad at times 'cos of people like Zit.

I have to say, I didn't feel too good after this. Say things about people, and obviously it'll catch up with you in the end, but certain parts of it gave me a queasy feeling - "Even though you slag off virtually everything"; "Surprise surprise, I am a nice guy" - I may have said things about the artwork/writing, but NOTHING about the actual people. What grounds would I have for that? And does it really read like I hate EVERYTHING? I explained to Graham that no, I don't hate everything about these comics... Let's hear from him again:

I’m glad you are covering the area of adult comics, but it just appears you are slagging them all off, when "for their time" several of them were very successful – including Spit! The Viz crew loved Spit!, as did many, many readers. We were not some corporate company looking to make fast money - we were a few young lads doing something we enjoyed, and knocking it together in the kitchen. You have to bear in mind that after three issues, Spit! was already 100K in debt 'cos of two legal cases that we WON. The Zit one was for "passing off" the NAME – which they said was too similar to theirs! The judge threw it out as a fraudulent prosecution. Their name was even more similar to Viz! Anyway, 'cos of all the debt, I had to write most of the scripts to save money, as I didn’t want to rip off cartoonists. Most of them were great, as they knew that myself and Spit! was a very honest comic - unlike many. We helped out several cartoonists, giving them legal advice when they were trying to get money from Zit. Top marks to Nigel, Paul Palmer etc – genuine guys with a love for comics. I made some great friends through Spit! I think it’s easy to knock comics without knowing the background. I would have loved to get several other cartoonists in, but we just couldn’t afford them, and I wasn’t going to exploit them! So that shaped Spit! 
Anyhow, time to go now. I hope you have a great Xmas. And for your new year’s resolution, try and say something nice about Spit! Go on, you’ll feel much better for it!

Isn't that nice? I know it can't've been nice to have put so much into a comic, then a couple of decades later some anonymous prick rips it apart on the Internet - but I really do have a genuine love for all of these comics. I wouldn't have spent so much time researching them, so much money buying them (must have over 300 of the things by now, not including Viz, although I haven't counted), so much physical effort in scanning and cropping them, so much time putting the articles together, and of course, so much time reading every page of every one of them. And yet, it appears I'm "slagging them all off". And for the last few days, I was really thinking about that - all along, has the perception been that I've been running this blog purely as a way of showing how shit that anything attempting to be Viz can be? Does my language really suggest that I detest every last one of these titles? Of course not - I even dropped the Viz-a-Like moniker, for fear of what it might be insinuating - just a cheap rip-off of Viz. To me, at least, these comics represent so much more than that. The "spirit" of underground cartoons, but sold on the shelves of WH Smith's and in corner shops and newsagents up and down the country. The kind of sales and widespread exposure the likes of Nasty Tales, Streetcomix and Pete Loveday's Big Bang Comics could only DREAM of. Thirty years ago, this kind of stuff would be the reserve of speciality shops, but ten years later, you could walk into the newsagents at the end of the road and have a choice of DOZENS of rude, crude, clever, silly, satirical, surreal, outrageous, and above all, different comics. The underground, overground, so to speak. I LOVE these comics, is what I'm saying. Even Winebibber and Jockstrap, about which I'll admit I had nothing positive to say, I can appreciate for just how different they are to nearly everything else.

And yet, when I found out that my blog's had the appearance of something that's mocking these comics, it got me questioning everything. Should I go back and re-write every single one of them? Should I delete the whole thing and pretend it never happened? Am I creating a false impression? Am I deluding MYSELF?

It took a couple of days thinking, some sleepless nights, and re-reading all of the comments on the various articles to come to a conclusion. I am not going to stop, I am going to finish what I started, I am going to carry on enjoying these comics exactly how I always have. I'm not going to pretend to like things (because there's such a thing as "journalistic integrity"), but at the same time, I'll be holding back on the bile for the bits that I don't like. A lesson has been learned here, put shortly. If I've upset any of the people behind these comics, I apologise - it's all down to opinion in the end, and YOU'RE the ones who made a living out of these. I'm just reading them all again, twenty years later, and trying to show as many people as possible what they've missed out on.

As I said earlier, I appreciate that Mr. Hey may have been upset about what I said about Spit! I stand by my opinion of it as one of my least favourites, but can also appreciate how well its staff were treated, and how it wasn't just a cynical cash-in on Viz's enormous popularity - indeed, a lot of my older friends have told me that Spit! was their favourite of all the various titles available at the time. I've spoken to many of the artists involved in these comics, even have some of them as "virtual" friends now (we're talking in the Facebook sense here), and not a single one of them has come across as a bad person. The upsetting thing is, it seems that perhaps I have been a steaming pile of shit all along. Funny old world, eh?


23 comments:

  1. Personally speaking, I have never felt that you “slag off virtually everything” that’s why I keep coming back as the blog would get rather tedious if you hated everything. But I have certainly noticed a change in your style of writing over the past year or so, reflecting how much you take this topic seriously and your commitment to "covering" these comics (Helped greatly by the fact that the people involved have been coming forward and giving their stories from behind the scenes). Might I suggest an interview with Mr. Hey (assuming he’s willing) and a retrospect of Spit! Now that you have the facts?
    After being dismayed by countless comic ‘history’ books that just dismiss this part in British comic history I have enjoyed these posts and I am glad that you intend to continue. Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thanks, Arfon - merry Xmas to you too!

      An interview could be good, but I'm not sure what else there is to say? He's explained the legal bits and the "making of" in his comments, and I've done almost everything else in the "main bit", but interviews are always fun - suppose I'd like to know more about his time at Zit?

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  2. Oh thats a real shame as I did like Spit a lot as a teenager not old enough to actually legally buy it. I think you're doing a fantastic job here, sharing many of the titles I wasnt old enough for or just didn't 'get' back then and quite frankly, your opinion on your own personal blog is exactly that. Thats why I return time after time. You're funny, interesting and actually make the effort to research into areas few others would without being bitter or aggressive. I hope to see way more of it in 2015.

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    1. Thanks, Ben - appreciate that. LOTS more in 2015, hopefully, maybe even one more in 2014 if I can find a spare day!

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  3. No need to change a single word you have written. I found some of the comics hard work to read when I bought them. But I still love them all anyway. This project needed doing and you are doing it fairly, objectively and professionally. Please don't let ANYTHING stop you from completing it.

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    1. Thanks John - think they're definitely an "acquired taste", but they're certainly addictive too. Have you got a favourite title at all, just out of interest?

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  4. Well, as you say, you never made personal attacks on anyone, and if you think something is sh*te, you're perfectly entitled to say so on your own blog. It reminds me of The Dandy relaunch situation: total fiasco, with some incompetent people protesting that they should be proclaimed as heroes for having the best and most noble of intentions - despite the miserable failure of their ill-judged attempts. As JP says, you have nothing to apologise for, as never once did you imply that Mr Hey was in any way a dodgy geezer of any kind. Not being a particular fan of these kind of publications, and regardless of how much fun the contributors may have had in bringing their strips to life, from what I've seen of them, most have been pretty sub-standard. I think it's a bit rich of someone to try to take you to task (however mildly and amiably) for recognising sh*te as sh*te and calling it what it is. So, what I'm saying is - keep on truckin', man.

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    1. Cheers Kid - trucking my troubles away and all that. Suppose I'm "lucky" it wasn't Andy Fanton that I'd upset? That was definitely an ugly confrontation!

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    2. True - although I think that I remained quite 'handsome' through it all. Unfortunately, some egos just can't abide any form of criticism. And let's be honest - receiving criticism can be tough, but sometimes it's necessary.

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  5. The short and the long is, there's good and bad stuff in everything, and the amount of good and bad stuff varies according to the views of the individual. For example, I must be one of the few people alive who has no love whatsoever for the Drunken Bakers, yet the majority seem to think it's a work of genius. Similarly, Viz kept Billy the Fish going for years and years even though most of the readership hated it. I would write some more on this subject but I'm tired.

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    1. Ta, Lee - must mean I'm one of the few people alive who loves Billy the Fish then?

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    2. You must be! They even asked readers to send in money to cancel Billy The Fish at one point. I dunno if anyone sent any in but I'd want it back.

      The one where Tommy Brown shit on his desk to prove that nobody was reading it was good. But only because it was true.

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    3. I remember that one well!

      How about the one that recaps everything that's ever happened in the strip over the many years, in text, underneath the title, only for there then to be room for a single panel of Tommy Brown and Syd Preston saying something along the lines of "What now, boss?"

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  6. Glad you've made the right decision. Your blog is a joy to read, and I'm pleased Graham Hey behaved impeccably, even though I didn't find much of his output amusing.

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    1. Only just seen this comment - thanks very much! Nice way to hear one's hobby-pastime thing described, cheers!

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  7. You want my 2p? Anyone can write a blog response after all.

    I read one or two issues of Spit myself, probably I was hungry for something to read while Viz was undergoing a "publishing cycle" and Zit were pressing that squidgy-head guy for more output. I read it, but I didn't laugh at it.

    I understand Graham's upset that he put all that sweat and blood into doing things the right way, only to be criticised 20 years later for it. But that's not the point of this blog. You're not reviewing the honesty of editors, or their financial situation, or how thoroughly Russell Church ripped them off (and you'd need a spreadsheet for that by the look of it).

    You're reviewing from a reader's point of view. Because you are a reader. And the only criterion a reader has for a comic is IS IT FUNNY? And if it isn't, it isn't. Sure Mr Hey's contracted artists are grateful for his decent treatment and I bet they do count him as friends, but I don't know any of them, and I'm not really bothered to. I'm just here to read about the comics I read, back in the day. Information is good, but you're not their mate. You're not on Graham's side, the editor. You're on my side, the reader. Nearly everyone who comes here is a fellow reader. The comics writers might enjoy a site just for them, but it'd have nothing to offer me.

    And finally, I'm not sure getting a strip about a stereotyped "Teenage Mum" (yes, I read it) published by the Daily Star (a comic worse than Smut) is any sort of accomplishment outside of getting paid for it.

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    1. Excellent points, Mr. Greenaum, definitely one I should've used in my defence - I'm a reader, a fan, a consumer, a whatever. I'm not the comics ombudsman or anything like that. In my opinion, Hey put out a shitty comic, and the blog post about it was my response to it, two decades later (as if it's going to change anything at all).

      Nice point about the Daily Star as well - I've tried reading it a few times (during my days as a butcher), and found it painful. As if it was making me stupider with each word I read. At least they've supplied us with plenty of Sunday Sport-worthy front page headlines over the years.

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    2. B-b-butcher? You're no Pig Pal of mine! I very nearly joined the Oink fan club, but I was too late so I got my cheque back and some stickers. I think they ran out of plastic goodies.

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    3. Aw, that's a bugger...
      Think I was born too late for Oink! (definitely was - I was three when it folded!). Loving it retroactively now though, a mate of mine (first time I ever met him no less) gave me his full collection, including summer specials and annuals, for no other reason than his mum was clearing out the shed and threatening to bin them!

      Butcher, yep - I've been a butcher, a delivery guy, an airport baggage handler... Everything but a zoo keeper, sadly enough.

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  8. Interesting post. I'm somewhat sceptical of Mr Hey's claim that 'The Viz crew loved Spit!, as did many, many readers'. By saying 'as did many readers', 'Viz crew' must mean he's talking about the people at Viz and that they 'loved Spit'? That definitely needs verifying. Also, I agree with the other commenters; Spit may have been one of the more 'ethical' comics from a corporate standpoint, but it was a crap and unfunny comic riding on the coattails of Viz.

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  9. Get graftin' there's a gud lad! First rule of comedy, Spike...

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  10. I think you are entitled as a reviewer to say what you like and I don't see anyone as knowledgeable about the period and the subject. Well done. I don't think you slagged Graham Hey off at all. I love your blog and I've never read anything in it remotely objectionable. lol.

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