Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nostalgia & Comics & Me - Part 7
the basement

Back to Nostalgia & Comics. After a few weeks of interesting stuff about the shop I paused whilst moving house and never seemed to start again.

My basement obsession seems a good place to start again. No-one who hasn’t actually worked at Nostalgia will realise the extent of the obsessional behaviour that basement brought out in me. Possibly something to do with my personality, possibly down to me being given it to sort out when I was but an impressionable 16 year old.
(But in truth probably more to do with me being an obsessional pillock.)

The basement is a big place. But it’s never really been big enough for the amount of shit that’s down there. The history of the basement actually reflects the history and development of the shop.

When I started there it was a complete tip. There were a few dexion units down there and a few wooden cabinets but that was about it. Dexion, for those of you who don't know is essentially Meccano for grown ups. A metal, modular shelving system with uprights and shelves regularly punctuated with holes to put the specialised bolts and nuts through. In theory, when it’s put together correctly it’s incredibly strong and incredibly stable.
In theory.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve managed to collapse it. Mostly in the early days when I feely admit my dexion construction skills were not quite at the master builder level they attained in my final years, but it wasn’t always my fault.

So you need to visualise a big basement, stairs down one side, toilet and kitchen at one end. A few metal dexion units and a few wooden cabinets.

Okay. Now add in 1000s upon 1000s of comics and magazines and other assorted crap.
On every available surface.
And the floor.
And the stairs.
And in the toilet.
And in the kitchen.
That gives you some idea of what it was like when I walked into it that first day.
The first year was just a case of trying to impose any sort of order on the place. It wasn’t helped by the insane way we used to order stuff back then in UK comics retailing. The new import comics used to be airfreighted over from the states and they were stored upstairs. But then 3 months later we got the sea freight stuff. This is when British newsagaents actually used to stock US comics – remember the little British prices on the cover?
Now these were returnable so every month we got thousands of the little bastards in. And guess where they went? Absolutely.

And of course, in those days although the comics were returnable, we probably only returned a third of the unsolds.
You have to remember these were different times, Back Issues still had a huge market back then and it was not unusual to have 200 overstocks of a single issue. And of that 200, you would put 100 into back issues. The one I always remember is issue 296 of the Fantastic Four FF. We had, at the height of the madness about 15 boxes of this ONE issue.
Plus this was back in the days when the old owner was still operating on the principles he’d started with. Get anything in cheap and get it in number. Hence regular supplies of old radio times, loads of comic collections, magazine collections and even better, all his stuff that he couldn’t fit in his house anymore.
There were whole sections of the basement that were completely out of bounds to staf because the owners stuff was in there and he was incredibly paranoid that the staf f would go in there and nick all the good stuff. He didn’t realise that the staff had looked at it already and were amazed at how shit it all was.

So as the years passed the order improved. More dexion was ordered (like getting blood out of a bloody stone that was), until eventually at least half the basement was covered in dexion and we actually had enough to make proper aisles and storage areas and properly organise the comics.
And oh, how many comics we had. If you imagine there are 300 comics in a long box, 8 long boxes to a dexion bay, 4 bays to a section, 5 sections to an aisle and at the height of the comics stock in the basement I think we had 6 aisles.
Little bit of maths – I reckon that works out at over a ¼ of a million comics in the basement. And most of them were shit.

I remember the struggle then was trying to keep everything in order and get the back issues away so they weren’t spilling all over the floor and any available surface. There was never any room in the boxes so it was frequently a case of moving the contents of 10 or 20 boxes around just to fit one box of new back issues.

Then came the mad period characterised by Saturdays of free magazines and skyscrapers of excess magazine bundles everywhere in the basement. For at least two years we received 1000s of magazines every Saturday. Bundle after bundle of 2000AD, Crisis, Revolver, Oink, Poot and many others would arrive at the shop and get thrown down the stairs.
Now I may be gossiping scandalously here, but as I recall the prevailing idea the staff had about these was that the owner had reached an agreement with someone working for the main British comic shop distributor of the time. Loads of ridiculously cheap or free mags in exchange for a regular supply of Marvel comics and other stuff.
As I recall we started off selling them cheap but it became obvious after a few weeks when we had literally skyscrapers of mags lying everywhere in the basement that we had to do something. Somehow we convinced the boss that we should start giving them away.
From then on it got really, really stupid. You could walk up to the till with a single copy of the X-men and leave the shop with 20 magazines. At least. We must have given away 10s of thousands of copies of 2000AD.
Strangely it all seemed to dry up after a few years. Rumours abounded about multiple firings at the distributor and suddenly no more mountain of magazines in the basement.

Of course, looking back now, I should have kept some of them. For example: Maxwell the Magic Cat Volume 1-3. Runs to something like £30 a go for each volume on ebay. We must have had 1000s. And we gave them away. Arse. That could have been my bloody pension!

Seems like a good place to leave it. What was going to be a small post has mutated into something impossibly huge. Although that does reflect exactly how the basement and the shop have wormed their way into my existence I suppose!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. The hidden parts of shops is always fascinating. I remember the top two floors of Waterstone's (High Street branch) were similar - piles and piles of old books that should have been gotten rid of but never were.

    Reading this reminds me that we used to buy those value packs of UK comics, presumably culled from the basement, for a quid or so and then trade them in at Readers World for something decent, or sometimes even for cash. Happy days!