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?