Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nostalgia & Comics & Me part 8
The basement part 2
or why comics shop owners should never, ever publish stuff they like.

Okay, time for more basement stories......

When we last mentioned it, we were knee deep in 2000ADs & UK magazines. The basement was absolutely packed with comics sitting neatly in their comic boxes on rack after rack of dexion. Then suddenly, as quickly as it started, the avalanche of magazines ended.
Normality (or what passed for normality in Birmingham's greatest comic shop) returned.
Remember, we still had what seemed like a copy of every single comic Marvel and DC had published in the last 10 years down there, plus the bosses increasingly erratic collection of stuff.

Another problem we suffered around this time (early 90s - me at University, working at Nostalgia Saturdays and vacations) was the publishing arm of Nostalgia & Comics.
Needless to say, these were not things many of the staff thought were good ideas. Phrases such as "insane, he's gone insane" or "no, you're having a laugh surely" and "what stupid half arsed deal has he done now" spring to mind.

As far as I can remember the publishing arm of Nostalgia & Comics managed to produce:
Nostalgia About Comics (1991): (link) a truly terrible collection of crap pictures of old comic books.
The Phantom: we published 9 issues of this one.
The Ingrid Pitt magazine - 1 disastrous issue
Pin - Up - 3 volumes.

I think Nostalgia About Comics was the first of these 4 financial abortions.
Essentially the owner had the idea that thousands of people would want to buy a very thin book containing a brief introduction by him and then 50 odd pages of pictures of the covers of lots of American & British comics from the 40s onwards from his own collection.
I know it's a no-brainer. I know you know it was doomed to failure. We all knew it was just a way to throw money away. But that didn't stop him printing up 1000s upon 1000s of the bastards. They appeared in the basement one day, bundles of 50 of them, just piled up in the corner. Took us many, many years to be rid of them.

The Ingrid Pitt magazine was another classic of incompetence.
Somehow the owner had it in mind that Ingrid Pitt had enough fans to support a badly produced, amateurish magazine. She didn't.
We had that one boxed up for years as well.

Pin-Up was possibly the exception to the rule that the owner always picked awful material to publish. It was actually really good. He published 3 volumes of this one. It was a hardback reproduction of some really nice European stuff. Gorgeous clean line artwork. A little cheesy perhaps, but much better than anything else he'd done before. Unfortunately it didn't sell either.
In fact the only saving grace about the Pin Up volumes was that they came in very well constructed boxes. Ideal for stacking which meant we could use them to put other stuff on. In fact, even to this day, the shelf above the doors to the main bit of the basement is supported by two rows of Pin up book boxes. Like briezeblocks but more expensive to produce.

But the best (ie. stupidest) publication we ever saw was the Phantom.
Now you may or may not know about the Phantom, but he's a very famous costumed adventurer. His comics sold in huge numbers. Many bloody years ago.
Since that heyday anything featuring the Phantom has sunk without a trace. Although for some reason, his comics are still fairly popular in Australia, I have no idea why this is.

But unfortunately for us the old owner of Nostalgia was a huge Phantom fan. He was at a complete loss as to why he wasn't as popular as Batman, Spider-Man or Superman (althogether now - because he was crap).
Somehow he managed to get the rights to old Phantom strips. So Wolf Publishing was born to publish the Phantom (link). Even better was the fact that one of the members of staff at the other Nostalgia & Comics stores - Sheffield I believe - was Dean Ormston. Yes, famous comic artist Dean Ormston.
(& I must touch upon the huge cock up that was the Nostalgia & Comics expansion plan later).

So the owner had the idea that with new covers by Dean, he was onto a hit.
Needless to say he wasn't.

Now it was pretty obvious to all of us working in the shop that the Phantom was going to be a huge failure. All of us except the owner of course.
It lasted 8 issues before the plug was pulled.
The last issue was meant to be issue 9 but this was quickly redone as a special Subscribers limited edition. Mainly for the Australian market, where a lot of 12 issue subscriptions had been taken out. This "special" issue was meant to be a replacement for the rest of the subscription.
Strangely there always seemed to be just as many copies of this special issue as there were all the other issues and oh my god, there were thousands of each issue hanging around my bloody basement for years after that.

And that, dear readers is four very good reasons why it's never a good idea for comic retailers, particularly old style retailers like the guy who owned Nostalgia & Comics at the time, to get involved in publishing. If he'd have just not published anything he'd have made more money. Hell, he could have even used the money to pay the staff more.

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