11 November 2009

Dark we were and golden eyed

The first event that I went to in this year's Comica Festival was a panel talk on the arrival of American comics to the UK via fanzines, conventions and iconic shops like Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed.

I recall that my first visit to Dark They Were was on a trip up to London from Southampton University in '77 for a march against cuts in student grants (anybody else remember student grants?!) when I managed to do some quick shopping before the protesting began.

The shop blew me over with a ground floor packed with science fiction books many of which, like the comics on the floor below, were only available in the UK through a few specialist shops, none of which were in Southampton or Weymouth.

The basement was like Aladdin's Cave for me, except that you can read comics and gold is pretty useless of itself.

The sense of awe must have been blatant and soon I was talking to a helpful member of staff. Back in Southampton just getting comics regularly (from WH Smith) was a challenge and there was no way to get any news about comics. Suddenly I was surrounded by more comics than I could imagine and was talking to somebody who knew what happened in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (featuring one of my favourites, Adam Warlock). I still have a Dark They Were shopping bag somewhere.

But back to present day and the talk. The panel consisted of five people who were heavily involved in the start of teen/adult comics in the UK, as retailers, distributors, fanzine producers and artists. And they were all clearly fans too.

The hyper-active Paul Gravett (the organiser of Comica) sat in the front row and nudged things along when the reminisces threatened to take the talk away from the rather loose script that it was attempting to follow. A little like herding cats but when cats are as cute as this, who cares?

The talk was aided by some period photographs and art work which really helped to recall those days. I was particularly impressed that legendary artist Brian Bolland showed us the cover of his first ever comic, drawn just for fun as a child, in which there was absolutely no sign of the talent or distinctive style that would emerge later.

The panellists were all informative and entertaining, which is always a winning combination, and so I had a rewarding afternoon. This was betrayed by the large grin that I wore throughout.

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