Of course there are always going to be ways of telling a story. Some like to embellish, some like to be utterly factual and some flat out lie. There are elements of all of those things in the story I will relate. It is an old story, one that festered in my mind for years, drove wedges in my relationships with people and ultimately became something I can look back on with humour. The alternatives were too unpleasant to contemplate really. While it is a cheap parlour trick, maybe I should say the story I will relate is one alleged to have happened between 1993 and 1995.
In 1993 I became the partner in a comic book shop, something of a fantasy situation for a young man to be caught in. A 22 year old novice suddenly with all the fun and games, drinking culture and money making (well, better than I had known) that I could reasonably cope with. I actually got to grips with the technical side of running a shop pretty quickly. I had allies in this endeavour, some more reliable than others. This small fact brings up the thorny notion of wether or not I name people here. Having given it a long though I have decided not to. All the names have been changed to protect the innocent as they say. Not sure many come out of this looking like they were ever innocent but that is for others to decide based on my description of the story above!
It is worth saying that only really three people who were involved day to day in the running of the shop have ever known the whole truth, and each of them only knows aspects of that truth. Each of us has will obviously have a coloured memory of the events I will outline. However conversations in depth with one of the others confirms pretty much everything I am going to say here. Nothing would come as a shock to him as he knows it all. The other guy, well a lot of what I am going to say will come as a shock not so much as he will find it new information but that it is information he would rather stayed hidden away. See he is a “figure” in the comic book scene. As my American friends might say he has more front than Macy’s and this might give a few people a peek behind the facade! My business partner had been with the shop since it opened. Fair to say he was a founding member of the Glasgow comic book scene really.
The shop was a forerunner of many you see today. It was cutting edge for its time, involving creators, punters, other businesses and convention organisers in a heady mix of fun, work and drinking. It was, for want of a better word, glamorous in a way I had never seen before. I started working there as a Sunday boy, then a few more days and eventually one day a partner wanted out and I was standing there thinking “why not?” I came to a financial arrangement that effectively meant my entire inheritance from my recently departed Grandfather was invested in the shop and I took my minority share (lesson one, there are no “minority” shares in a partnership when it comes to legal liability) and got on with the job.
My partner Jon (not his real name) and I had an assortment of people helping us, nothing regular though. Around the same time Stateside Comics were in the midst of a nationwide expansion using the Virgin stores as bases. This was always going to be a disaster as it was a massive expansion with no real customer base and came across as something of a dodgy thing to be doing. However two of the guys that they sent up there were actually pretty decent. They hired a third local guy and they all got to trying to undermine the other established shops! This was never a big threat and soon they went bust. We had a good laugh about this and then one of the staff from Stateside came along looking for a job. We agreed that David (his real name, but let’s pretend it isn’t) would be a good fit in the shop and he came on board. The team was set, we hoisted the mainsail and tightened the ropes and set about our journey. For a very short time it was golden, smooth work, good turnover, easy to pay everything and stress free. In this time I made friends, allies and connections. It was good.
One of the local comic book artists who I had become quite good friends with was negotiating a business deal with Jon about coming on as a silent partner. Jon was keen on this, Kolin McFeel (yeah, not real name!) was a big name in the UK comic scene, having recently completed a seminal Judge Dredd and then a Chopper story for 2000AD that had set a very high bar for others to hit. He and I got to know each other and found a friendship that was separate from the shop and the business. However at this time I found the first in the tiny slips in Jon’s account of the business and it’s health. I had asked how much Kolin was putting in and how much we owed on the overdraft. Jon had responded “Oh the overdraft is about £4000 or so” and I balanced that against Kolin telling me that he was putting in £10,000. I thought this was cool, made us in the black and we could build on that. Then a statement came through and I opened it before Jon came in one day. The bank balance was sitting at an overdraft point of £10,000. I looked over and there was Kolin’s deposit, taking the previous £20k down to £10k. Jon came in and I asked him about it, he explained the intricacies of the banking system and how it worked out that we actually had an overdraft of £20k because of the actions of the previous partner that I had just replaced. Yes, I was an idiot. I believed him.
It seemed a good idea so we started talking about the San Diego comic convention. This is a Mecca for comic book fans. Go there once and you have at least done the pilgrimage and can always claim nerd points over anyone who hasn’t been there. As Jon was in charge of the finances of the business he was happy to have the two partners head over to New York for a few days and then to San Diego. Kolin decided to come and a writer we knew also decided this would be a good trip, so Robert joined us and we headed over. It is fair to say this trip was one of the most memorable ones of my life. Less so for the comic convention but more for New York. Within a day I was in love with the place! We went to DC Comics and were taken to lunch by none other than the great Archie Goodwin, a quietly spoken giant of the industry. He was welcoming and charming and had a huge impact on me. Later we visited Marvel and Richard Ashcroft, visiting him and his wife at their Manhattan apartment. Standing in the Bullpen at Marvel was a great experience. No Stan Lee there, but a host of other big names of the time in offices and cubicles. If ever there is a time when you think you have arrived, that was one of mine! That New York visit also included the offices of the DC imprint Milestone, where I met Dwayne McDuffie and the guys. Energy and creativity all around. I was very saddened to hear years later that Dwayne had passed away at a young age. He was a lovely guy.
We headed down to San Diego, checked in and got ready for the convention. As you will have guessed and will find out more about later, the relationship Jon had with the truth was sketchy at best, downright wrong at worst but there was one thing he talked about that was absolutely true. One morning for breakfast we headed to the convention hotel to be greeted by a friend of Jon’s, Will Eisner. Anyone who knows anything about comics will know this man to be one of the true giants. There are a few names people know, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane (arguments about Bill Finger aside), Shuster and Siegel and so on. Will Eisner can stand alongside all of these people on the level of influence and importance to the industry. Turns out he was actually a friend of Jon’s, who knew! So we had breakfast and I discovered with Will a mutual love of tennis and the discussion went to players we had seen, how it was played and tactics. He was a true gent, and he paid for breakfast!
I can’t remember when it was that things got a little sour but I know that it was caused when David called our hotel from the shop. Turns out we were in San Diego when Batman 500 had been released and our order from Titan Distributors was missing the entire order, some 200 copies of it. Jon and I managed to find the head of Titan in the convention hall and decided to ask what the hell was going on. At that time comics were so time sensitive we knew that unless we could get the right book at the right time at least 50% of our non-ordered sales would go, and a good few orders would be knocked back. The idea of customer loyalty to a comic shop was a myth in those days. Get the books on the day of release or eat the loss of sales. The head of Titan kind of shrugged and made some noises about loyalty and so on that I really didn’t understand. I had to leave as I felt the anger rise in me. There was no point in losing it so I found something else to do. It was at this point I accidentally barged into Rob Liefeld, knocking him through a display and having his bodyguards (yes!) grab me. A short moment later all was well and I was free. I found Jon, then he told me the Bats 500 were not going to be coming and that we should plan something to do with Titan, it was clear they were not acting in our best interest and as our supplier that was a risky thing. Really at that moment I should have clarified my position, seen the lie of the land, got the details and then made a plan. I didn’t though. Yes, I was an idiot. I believed him.
We returned from San Diego and went back to the shop. David had a torrid time of it while we were away. It became clear that during our absence Titan had been to mess with our orders something shocking. I had no idea why, we had paid them, we were on time with our orders, we spoke to the reps. The account number for the shop was 0004, so we were old time customers! During our strategy talks we discussed moving our supply business away from Titan, who were merging with Diamond and to the US based Capital distributors. We figured out we could import and transport comics to the shop and still get a better price than buying from Titan. So we got a copy of their trade magazine and placed an order. Jon had dealt with them before so an account was there and I was sure they would take our order happily and gain a UK customer foothold. One thing that I didn’t ask, and that Jon didn’t mention, was our current situation with Titan. It was that situation that would lead to the final moments of the shop, but we will get to that later!
I asked Jon about the account with Capital just after we placed a months worth of comic book and trading card orders. I asked “Do we owe them any money?” to which Jon had replied “Oh yeah, I think it is about $4000 or so” and if you are an astute reader you might recognise that sum! I thought we have that so I can get that sorted out quick smart and be off to the races. I got on the phone to a lovely and friendly lady by the name of Jacquie Oldenburg (yes, I didn’t make that one up) and had a very informative and helpful, and bowel loosening conversation.
“Hey Jacquie, (intro etc etc) and I was wondering if you can give me a balance so we can make the payment to get the account going again?”
“Nice to talk to you Cory, the account balance is $27,681.27, so if you can sort that then we can release your orders!”
Not sure she could have heard my anal sphincter releasing over the phone, but I was certain a few in the shop did.
“Thanks Jacquie, can I get back to you soon?”
I put the phone down and breathed, it didn’t help, so I kept breathing and then Jon came in “So, whats the score then?”. If you have seen shows with flash cuts to things that people are thinking rather than what they are doing then I had a real life one. Jon’s lifeless body lay on the floor in front of me minus his throat which was firmly gripped in my blood soaked hand. Instead all that happened was “Jon, we need to have a chat about Capital.”
I would say to make a long story short but there is actually a word that explains what Jon had been doing with Capital. That word was “fraud”. In those days, before online banking and instant transfer we had to use sheets and wires to send money to the States. So Jon had gone to the bank and asked for a pile of the sheets and filled them out to the tune of the various invoices, signed then and then copied them and faxed them to the accounts department at Capital. What he had never done was actually take them to the bank and send the money to Capital. They had assumed he had, he told them he had and that he “didn’t understand” the delay and all along knowing he had never even tried to send the money.
So I got on the phone to Jacquie again, one long conversation later I had convinced them to take $1000 a week over and above the invoice total for that week in advance of shipping. They were fixed on this, it was the best I could do. There was another condition as well that I never let on at the time. At no point did they want to see his name on any piece of paper, hear his voice or deal with Jon ever again. He was persona non grata in the extreme with Capital. It was a price I was happy to pay, they could have gone legal and there was no defence.
I kept this payment schedule going for a while. In fact at one point it got easier as our bank manager let us combine all our shop credit cards and use those with a 100% pay off at the end of the month. It made life a bit easier for sure. Capital liked it as they had the card and could charge it, I liked it as they were paid and we got supplied. After about 12 weeks I contacted Capital again and asked if we could drop it to $500 over the invoice amount and they agreed, this made for a slightly easier time of things. We had a shipping company, a man with a van, a good supplier and after all of that our margin was better! It was looking OK for a while there. During this time we had a big signing, Dave Sim of Cerebus fame came to the shop, we actually paid for him to travel to Glasgow from the London convention. Him asking for a cab from London centre to Heathrow was a charming moment for sure. That was £60 even then! It wasn’t too bad, I got my ugly mug on the back of the comic.
In 1994 I got my second international trip out of the shop, I got to attend DC Comics “Preferred Retailer” meeting in San Antonio Texas. It was an annual thing that a previous partner had gone to. This previous partner had even suggested going this year to represent us as he had made the contacts and DC were paying. I shut that down fast. We had opened an Edinburgh shop in the meantime and after it was closed (made no money at all) I had discovered that this previous partner had been paid more than me to run it as “part of his severance” deal and I also found £550 in cheques that had never been deposited and a further £600 cash in the shop. What he had been doing is beyond me. I wished him not well and tried to forget him, I never forgave him for what he did there though. A couple of years later he had a public and pretty unpleasant breakdown over someone calling him out on the same practices he used on us. It is not my finest thing to admit but I was quite pleased, not that I wished him long term damage but just pleased he had faced consequences of his actions. Overall I think he cost me several grand! Another joyous detail of the Edinburgh shop was telling the long term ally of the shop, the owner of the leading indie comic shop in Edinburgh. I got on well with him but everything cooled after the opening of our shop. We all went bowling and Jon took him aside and told him we were opening. Jon came back to me and told me he had taken it well enough but not to bother him. I was only too happy to oblige. What Jon hadn’t told me was that he had told the guy that the Edinburgh shop was my baby and that as a partner he had to go along with my expansionist ideas. This was a flat out lie. I was into the idea of the shop but I knew who would be running it and it had been driven by Kolin to a degree as he had a brother that needed a job. That brother got a job and pretty much left after three days. Kolin’s sense of obligation to his brother was truly admirable given the utter lack of effort on the brother’s part. I couldn’t be bothered with him after he rolled a joint in front of my guests and I in the flat I shared with Kolin and then sat there smoking it without so much as an offer of a toke. This is not the done thing!
Anyway, I digress. In San Antonio I met one of the owners of Forbidden Planet and had many long conversations about the setting up of their shops and the relationship with Jon at the time and subsequent consequences. It is not for nothing they grew and dominated the field, they actually had a plan and it was fast becoming clear to me that if the business was to grow then I needed one too. If I could navigate the numerous disasters I was being handed then this could be a good thing! The guy encouraged me, he liked that we were still there and that I was trying hard to make it a better shop. As is usual with meetings and events like these I came back enthused and ready to get on with things. Of course what I came back to was another series of crisis that needed resolving. I had only really been away 4 days but in that time Jon had managed to get on the phone with Capital and lie to them about something, they knew as I had spoken to them in San Antonio and told them the truth about the very thing Jon had then lied about. Once again I was on the phone to them, “No, he will never speak to you again, just pretend he isn’t here!” His utter inability to talk to anyone without lying frustrated me and I took it upon myself to contact a lot of suppliers and distributors with a quiet word to take nothing from him as true and to speak to me. It was a betrayal as I should have confronted him but even that had it’s own issues. Jon was spoken too several times by me and by David, our “please don’t do that”, or “talk to us before you do something” was met with a repeated “Yes, yes guys you are right, I won’t” and then he would proceed to do exactly as he liked.
The saga of Big Ian. I am not going to make up a name for this guy, he isn’t worth the effort as it turns out. Ian was a member of the rotating staff that the shop had, he was pleasant enough, amiable if a little intense and a bit overly sure of his relationship with the shop. He would quite happily walk into the office and assume that anything in there was his business and so on. I was keen to put an end to that, his relationship with David wasn’t good and frankly David was a better friend as well as being full time so I needed to ensure his happiness over Ian’s. One day he came to us with a business idea. We had gone with Capital and were paying a fair bit to have the goods delivered to us from Manchester, the only airport that the shipping company could use and keep the prices reasonable. We were getting deliveries on the Friday morning and having to run around daft getting everything done before the ravenous hoards of punters came in for their new comics. His idea was that with the inclusion of the other two Scottish shops using Capital (Deadhead and Plan 9) he could actually drive down there, pick up all three deliveries and then drive them up and deliver to us first and then on to the other two. He could get that done on Thursday night, maybe even earlier now and then. Getting the drop of Forbidden Planet could have had some pleasant benefits so we thought this was a good way of doing it, at least it sounded good in theory. His extra service would be that he could cover the fees and admin charges with the shipper and then pass those onto us with a management fee for himself. I was dubious but Jon liked it and so it went ahead. This arrangement worked surprisingly well, he was efficient and got the job done. We even had occasional Wednesday deliveries, giving us a better reputation and better sales.
Cracks started to appear in the service, things were getting missed and excuses about timings started to come thick and fast. Ian was moody and uncommunicative about important things and both Jon and I were getting concerned about the situation. One day he came in and told me that he needed to cover the fees for the shipper or they were not going to be released. He showed me the invoice for roughly £1200 and said he didn’t have it and our shipment was going to be delayed as a result. The only option was to pay so Jon and I agreed, gave him the cheque and he got the stuff. A few days later we got a fax from him telling us that he was no longer able to continue and that as of right now he was no longer in any business with us. Jon phoned his home and his grandmother said he was in his room and didn’t want to speak to anyone. Frankly we had bigger fish to fry so we left it there. A friend of Ian’s came in to ask us why we had stopped paying him for his services and Jon let him know this was not the case at all, we had no idea why he would say that as we paid him weekly after every delivery. His friend was a touch confused by this, we suspected a few lies were being told.
A couple of weeks later we had organised another delivery guy, he was happy enough to do the driving and the deliveries but all the admin was on us. This was fine, each shop decided to deal with their own and we got on with it. I then got a phone call from Emma at Deadhead in Edinburgh telling me there was a problem with the shipping company. I phoned the shipping company and the woman there explained that they were owed around £1200 from the last month and wondering where Ian was and if not him then who would be paying it. I dug out the invoice and read her the number, that was the one I had already given Ian the money for. It was then I noticed something, the invoice was made out to Ian’s company name, but under that was the shop’s address and VAT number. He basically had made us liable for all the charges from the start, the shop had the account and he was charging us for running an account in our names that we didn’t know about! I called Jon in and gave him the rundown. He was understandably furious and tried to call Ian again, no answer at all. The guy had pocketed the money from us, from the others too and had dropped off the radar,leaving us with the liability for the account. He was telling people it was money we owed him when in fact it was fees he owed the shipping company. In total I would guess he pocketed about £2000 from the three shops, with the majority our £1200. We had no choice but to pay the fees again in order to release our goods. What was pretty disappointing was that a conversation with another shop owner led to him pretty much saying “Well, sorry to hear that, let me know how you get it sorted!” The camaraderie and support was underwhelming! It was a nasty day. We continued on with our new driver for a while. Eventually we changed again. No one ever seemed able to actually do the job they said they would do for longer than about 2 months. Frustration led to simply using TNT to pick up and bring it in. It cost more, but was less hassle.
I did speak to the Police about it, after all he had used our name, address and VAT number to open an account without our knowledge or permission. With sad inevitability the line “This is a civil matter, not a criminal one” became the standard reply. Turns out Ian had been doing some importing of other things, nothing big time but I heard it involved props from movies that had been sourced in a dubious manner and that at the time of his business collapse he was helping the Police with their enquiries, as the line goes. None of that came with any detail, I heard from a Police officer I knew and he added the caveat that it would be denied and that Ian was receiving protection from a couple of other things in return for helping catch whoever was smuggling the props out of the States. Seemed a lot of cloak and dagger but I guess stolen property is stolen property.
Soon another (and last) opportunity to fly out to the States came along. Capital were having a retailer convention in St Louis so I booked a flight and headed out. This weekend of meetings was immensely productive as well as giving me a chance to meet a guy who worked at Capital with whom I had a great long distance chat with. I met Tom and we spent a couple of nights smoking cigars, drinking and then running through the hotel like lunatics. It was an epic night. The next night I spent smoking other things with another comic friend Patty and then having to negotiate a stoned walk through a lobby when Tom, Matt Wagner and a couple of others called me over for a drink. That night didn’t end well, or early. The guy at the breakfast bar saw me and told me to sit and brought me a breakfast he thought I needed. He was right, he got a nice tip!
At this convention I met a guy, can’t remember his name but he was head of credit at Capital and wanted to speak to me. I was filled with dread about this, the situation Jon had created was legally dubious to say the least, this meeting could have gone either way. I sat down with him and a coffee and he started off with something that put me at ease and also made me feel pretty good “Cory, I would like to thank you for your honesty in your dealings with Capital, given the circumstances I can’t imagine this to have been an easy time for you!” I smiled and thanked him and got back to talking about going forward. I left that meeting with a happier heart, we had nearly cleared the back log of debt and were getting ourselves onto a better path going forward.
Filled once again with enthusiasm (going to the States did that, maybe I should go again) I came back and started to implement some new things. We had gone into trading cards and these were growing, even US sports cards were selling. I didn’t get why but they did so we sold them. One guy, the famous “man in a hat” would buy literally anything pornographic that we could bring in. Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, even lesser known Asian Babes and its sister title Shaved Asian Babes were fair game for him. Each trading card box was purchased, sometimes at frankly indecent (pun intended) mark ups, without question or hesitation. I did worry about customs looking through our stuff but it never really happened and what we were bringing in wasn’t illegal by any measure. For a brief time there were no business crisis, no stress and no legal issues to contend with. All we had was the ongoing soap opera that was Jon’s personal life.
Earlier in the 1993 my mate Craig had been asked to go and pick up this girl from Glasgow Airport. He had arrived to be greeted by staff wheeling this utterly pissed woman in a chair to him. They thanked him and as Jon was with him they put her in the car and brought her to the shop. She sat in the back, to both mine and David’s bemusement and sobered up a bit. After we finished work everyone met at the Tron Bar and had a few drinks, she joined us. This woman was Jane (not her real name) and she had an “interesting” story. Basically she had been Jon’s younger brother’s girlfriend in school. She had recently turned up on the London doorstep of the younger brother drunk and abusive, had verbally attacked his wife and the Police had been called. In a spectacular example of Policing they told him that there was nothing they could do and suggested he sort her out himself. He did what all responsible people should do, put her on a plane back to her hometown, phoned his brother to pick her up, and then washed his hands of her! It would be an interesting science fiction idea, the “Chaos Bomb”. This is what she was, someone who simply caused chaos wherever she went. She got progressively more pissed during the evening until Jon stood up and said “Well, better get you to your bed!” and called a cab. As they left the rest of us looked at each other and one of us, who shall remain nameless forever, said with a grimace “He is going to fuck her isn’t he!” We all agreed this was the most likely outcome. It also turned out to be totally on the money.
This began an ongoing cycle of drink, drink induced cabaret in public places, tears and Jon storming around threatening to throw her out, cast her aside, whatever. What he never did was get her the help she so obviously needed, what no one else did was stand up to him and tell him to get her the help she so obviously needed. What we did was look the other way as violence started between them. It was drunken violence without any real damage but violence none the less. I spoke to David about it once and we rationalised the situation to ourselves. Jon hit her, she hit Jon, they both drank together and that was what instigated the violence. She was as strong or stronger physically than Jon and frankly could dish it out more than he did. It is a regret of mine that I didn’t say or do something to at least say I made an effort to get them help. In all honesty I didn’t like her very much when she was sober much less when she was drunk and the ongoing dramas Jon had caused in the shop made me less inclined to help him than ever so that is something I will have to live with. It doesn’t keep me up at night but I realise that I could have been a better person at the time. Another symptom of this situation was that our petty cash was getting lower and lower and we realised Jon was effectively funding her life through the shop as well. We did what we could to end that, it was tough but no way were we paying for their ongoing dramas.
As the business continued to go through crisis after crisis with me (helped by David) putting out fire after fire this low level buzz of personal strife continued unabated. It was simply called the “Jon and Jane Show” and was expected every time we went out for a drink. The fantastic scene in Absolutely Fabulous where Patsy has her underwear hanging outside her pants is made less funny when you have seen it for real on someone in the Empire Bar at 9 o’clock on a Friday night! Once she drunkenly exclaimed that although I was good looking she “wouldnae fuck me as ye are a pal o’ Jon’s!” My relief at this was considerable I can tell you. My question was how did she rationalise all the other friends of his that she did crawl into bed with? She even did the walk of shame to the shop with random guys and asked for their cab money when Jon wasn’t there. Those who know how blunt I can be on occasion would be surprised to learn that it was my personal dealings with her that formed that ability.
One of these cabaret nights out led to the only sighting of Big Ian ever made after his sudden disappearance. In the Empire Bar one evening David and I were having a drink when we both suddenly realised we had run out of money for the night, this could not stand so I suggested we pop back to the shop and grab some to tide us over as we planned to head on from the pub. The pub was literally about 20 yards up the road and as we approached the shop we saw two large figures standing at the gate of the door. As we got closer we realised that it was Ian and a mate of his we knew. Now Ian was a good 6’4 and his mate about the same and neither of them were small, his mate was a physical worker and was pretty much a bear of a guy but I knew he was a good tempered chap so I walked up and challenged them as to what they were doing. Ian turned and said “You have some paperwork relating to my business that I want back!” I told him that we didn’t and even if we did letting yourself into a shop with keys you shouldn’t have was really the wrong way to go about it. I demanded the keys back and after an initial resistance his mate told him to hand them back. Ian stormed off and his mate apologised and said Ian told him he was allowed in to get stuff, he was there to give him moral support only. To this day I think that if Ian had gotten into the shop then we would have been several hundred pounds lighter the next morning.
Towards the latter third of 1994 we started getting letters from Titan about our account. I asked Jon to check it and asked him how much we owed them. You can probably guess the answer and yes, like and idiot I believed him. “Just over £4000 I think, we didn’t order anything after that so it doesn’t go up” What Jon didn’t know, didn’t tell me or didn’t want me to know was that he was quoting only one of the 3 months worth of supply that we had stiffed them on and the total amount we owed them was just north of £15,000. In all honesty I knew about the one month and wanted to pay them off, I had no idea that for the three months prior to the San Diego convention Jon had simply been fobbing them off. It was this money that had paid for the trip, he had robbed Peter to pay Paul in a big way, and Peter had come back to haunt us! My own naivety had allowed this to happen. Not sure how I thought the Manhattan hotel, the San Diego hotel, the flights and the meals had been paid for but I trusted he knew what he was doing. Actually he did know what he was doing, he was not paying people so he could have a big holiday in the States. This is all supposition and guesswork of course, but I can see no other way we could have afforded that trip.
As the letters intensified David and I went up to Jon’s flat one day to discuss matters. It was something of a surreal situation. Jon was sat there wrapped in a duvet, rocking back and forward and telling us he had everything under control, he was speaking to a solicitor and we would get through it. David and I left not entirely convinced. One thing about Jon though, he did love lawyers! He cultivated friendships with them, had a relationship with one, kissed their asses and worshipped them from afar. He knew one guy who was a pretty senior sheriff in Edinburgh so when he said he had talked to a solicitor we knew he very well could have done just that as he knew a good few of them and could get some good advice. Some time later I found a letter about the Titan case from the solicitor. He had gone to a small firm on Duke Street in Glasgow. In the letter were two bombshells, one was them saying they really didn’t know anything about the Sequestration Act in Scotland and the other being very specific about the fact that as they hadn’t met me they were acting for him and him alone, not the partnership or the business. I asked him about these things and his response was “That is just a technicality, in a meeting after that I explained that they were acting for both of us and for the business!” Of course at that time I knew nothing about legal issues so like a complete idiot I believed him.
By that time the letters had turned into visits from two men with clipboards and so on. Jon had to go to Court and talk about things. David and I stayed in the shop to run it and David said something I get a smile from to this day. He turned and said “You know Cory, I don’t think Jon should be allowed to do anything legal on his own after today!” With a solemn expression I nodded agreement and I was true to that agreement, he never did do anything legal on his own after that. We were side by side when the next legal event happened.
Tuesday February 12 1995.
David and I opened the shop as usual, the previous Thursday was when Jon had been to the Court and had come back smiling. He told us they would want to look over our books and then we would have to come up with a payment schedule that would be court enforced and so that would be that. Nothing to worry about, let’s get on with things. We had worked on with a degree of relief and although it was a new and sizeable debt we were reasonably confident of getting through it. It had been a long 18 month struggle but the shop was pretty much back on its feet and was working well. So on that Tuesday we were working along and through things when two guys turned up, identified themselves as court appointed and Jon suggested taking the lead one for a coffee while the other one chatted to David. Up to Loretos we trudged, chatting and smiling away. We ordered our coffee and the guy said something I still giggle at, “I was surprised when we turned up and you were still trading!”
“Why, you are here to check out our books and help come up with a payment plan?” I replied cautiously.
“Oh no what made you think that, we are here to close you down today!” he said flatly.
“What was that?” I turned and stared at Jon who in turn fixed his eyes on his coffee and didn’t look up.
“The court awarded a sequestration last Thursday, Jon was there for the hearing, it was explained then.” He was really confused by now, my face must have been a picture.
“This is not the information I was given.” I had nothing else to say.
Back in the shop David was having his own interesting conversation, it had started much the same way as ours. When the guy started counting everything David asked if this was a Poinding (a Scottish legal thing where they count your goods to ascertain value) and the guy had responded that it wasn’t and that he was just trying to figure out how big a van they would be needing to carry everything away. He then closed the door and locked it. The shop was in that instant closed forever.
The late and often lamented Pete Root was renting space from us in the shop. He watched this unfold with a mixture of horror and anger. He knew Jon well, and he realised pretty fast that Jon had known what was happening and had not passed on the information to anyone else. He quickly showed the guy what was his stock and began boxing it up. There was no fight from the guy, it was pretty straightforward. The three of us returned from the coffee, which we paid for, and I told David. He already knew what was happening but didn’t know how much Jon had misled us. I was in no mood to soften the blow so I told him. Emotions were expressed by both of us. Jon was amazingly calm through the whole process as he had the time to get ready for the events of the day. We grabbed what we could, stole what we could and left. I had no stomach to watch them box up the shop and take it away.
In all this you will maybe have noticed the lack of mention of Kolin, the silent partner. Well a good few months previous he had decided that being a silent partner wasn’t the best idea for him so had asked to be released from his liability. I had agreed of course, Jon had agreed and the bank had agreed, for a price. Kolin had to put another £10,000 into the back account to be released from his liability. So his dabble with Jon and business cost him £20,000! Though to be totally fair had he been a partner at the time of the sequestration the shop would have survived as he would have been forced to pay the entire debt to Titan, an amount he actually had in cash at the time. After that Kolin’s attitude had hardened, understandably so actually, and he had started placing advance orders for stuff that we had to say no to. At one point he ordered a £3000 bronze bust of a comic book character, Doc Savage or something. We told him they cancelled it due to lack of orders. That may well have been true, who would order that? Jon had placated him by giving him the original art to the very first Judge Dredd published story, an original painting of Halo Jones and a few other things. Kolin had distanced himself from everyone, his art had suffered and eventually he left Glasgow. I think his relationship with the shop damaged the guy more then he knew. I think his relationship with Jon, with whom he had flat shared was the genesis for his problems. Jon had used him, as he had me, as a means of getting money and sharing the responsibility for the failures of the business. Years later I talked to Kolin at Pete’s funeral and sort of patched things up. I suspect he threw blame at everyone over that, and I was an arrogant kid for a lot of the time so didn’t see the damage others were being inflicted with. Of course the friendship is dead but the animosity is gone and for that I am grateful. I do think now and then I should find a way to reach out but time has passed and I am not sure he would be too open to meeting up again.
Anyway we got drunk. After that we talked about how to rise from the ashes and pretty soon we knew that was a no go as well. The following Saturday David and I went back to the shop, Pete had piled his boxes up and we knew he had done a deal for some room in Forbidden Planet so that was ok, he would make more money there than he did with us so we were pleased for him. As we stood there having a laugh our Saturday guy came in. Now Scott was a fat bastard who really owed the shop close to a grand for his standing order. We had started to crack down on him and packed up his comics in order making him take the oldest first and allocating his credit pay for the work on the books we wanted gone from his order. He wasn’t happy about that but the options were that, they all go back into stock or he pays for everything in one go. In a display of utter self centred prickery Scott walked through to where his standing order box was held and came out in a huff “They took my standing order, how am I supposed to get them back?” he moaned. I nearly kicked the fat fuck in the balls there and then. David looked at him with contempt and said “We are unemployed, we lost everything and you are moaning about that, just fuck off!” I have never seen him to talk to again, and that is not enough as I have seen him serving in Forbidden Planet now and then. Amusingly I was asked to leave Forbidden Planet, it seems the owner took exception to my coming in to talk to Pete and so I was banished. I have never set foot in the place since, even though I have been told there was no ban intended. The manager Kevin got the job of telling me, I remember him saying in a really obsequious way “Jim would rather you waited and talked with Pete somewhere else!” He danced with the devil that day, but I was more amused that they thought I was important enough to be asked to leave. That’s how I choose to see it anyway!
Had we known how little the stock could be bought back for we might have gone for it but we didn’t and within a few days Bernie (not his real name) had gone along, bought the stock (for around £2,500 from the information I got), taken over the lease and reopened the shop! He had renamed it and bought the standing order list from me as I had cleverly stashed it and was up and running. Of course I was happy that Forbidden Planet were not going to inherit all of our business but the reopening of the shop came with a pretty nasty sting in the tail. For some reason best known to himself Bernie had given Jon a job there! Yes, the guy that lied and cheated every business partner and eventually was the architect of the total failure of the business walked away with a job and David and I walked away with virtually nothing. Bernie later told me he felt he could control Jon a lot more than he could me and that his brother really didn’t like David so that wasn’t going to work either. His brother was his business partner so the decision was a final one. In the years to come Bernie would take the shop in a slightly different direction. He was less concerned with the fact it was a comic shop and used it to branch out into toys and other extras things that go along with the core business. He went from strength to strength and is now a big player in the pond that is the Scottish comic and toy market. I genuinely am pleased for him and although there is always going to be a small part of me that does the “what if” routine I know it didn’t happen and so I just have to be content that someone else survived even if my body has boot marks on the shoulders as it slips into the depths of the ocean!
It had come as a surprise earlier in our financial troubles when Jon had offered to sell his flat. I thought that a very noble thing and plans were made to market it. The very same Bernie as above turned up needing a Glasgow flat and negotiations got underway. Bernie bought the flat and I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that there would be an amount of money coming in from the flat as I knew around £20K was equity on the value so we could get by. Nothing came in, not a penny. I asked about this and was hit by yet another Jon bombshell. Jon had dabbled in a comic publishing venture with a former parter and had managed to secure a pretty good creative team and eventually that comic became a TV movie. What he had also done with his partner was ensure the thing made no money and instead got left with debt, against which he had placed the flat equity as security. When the flat sold that side venture got covered, the other guy involved walked away debt free and the shop got nothing. I didn’t even get an apology about this. I had wondered why Jon was so happy to sell his flat and now I knew the reason, he was covering his arse on something else. Now had he waited on it and paid off the shop there is a chance he could have been Sequestrated over that and he and the other guy would have to face the music but instead he chose that over the shop, widening the damage done considerably. Self interest ruled his decision making process and the other guy was a big name in the Scottish folk music scene and it would not be right for Jon to have a black mark on his name with those people he never saw, never spoke to yet thought important enough to look at him as a successful man!
For some inexplicable reason I socialised with Jon for a while. Something in me didn’t want to blame him though I knew he was to blame. A few things happened that drove the wedge further though. We were in Babbity’s the pub once and the owner asked what had happened, Jon fired back “We sold the shop to Bernie, we no longer wanted to do that!” and walked away with the pints. The owner turned to me and said “We all know what happened, we just wanted to say how sorry we were!” I thanked him and went back to the table. Jon lied by reflex, without hesitation and without conscience. He lied about everything, never wanting to be seen as being less than in total control of his world. The reality was he was never in control at all. Now he was working for the new owner of the shop he used to own, telling people he was “helping out” as part of the transition, a transition that went years. I went to comic book club meetings, drinks and more. All the time I nursed the anger, held it back and defused it for some reason. Later my girlfriend (now my wife) saw me chat to him in Glasgow Central and her thoughts were “Who is that mad old guy talking to Cory?” as he was not the most sartorial and really she wasn’t too far off the mark. I did exact a measure of revenge on him, I am not prepared to admit entirely to what I did but I did it with a lie while I took the action over a period of time. I am fairly certain he knew I was lying but I am also fairly certain he didn’t want to call me on the lie when I have so much on him stored up.
I continued to attend SCCAM (Scottish Cartoonists, Comics and Members) group, a fantastic group that Jon, myself, David and Timmy had thought up in Blackfriars one day. Of course that is worth a blog all of it’s own as the combination of Jon, the loveable rogue that was Timmy and their mutual love of being the most important man in the room led to a historical revision of the founding of the club that Stalin would have been in awe of! So yes socially I did involve myself with him but I knew I didn’t like him and the confusion of the emotions I was feeling stopped me being decisive. Of course there were many “if only we” and “what could we have done” conversations with David in the pub late at night. All of them ended with a version on the theme “that fucker” that was sadly inevitable as the conversation began. David and I did the marts up and down the country for a while, it was fun but was a temporary thing. I was clinging to things, he was clinging to things and we both needed to move on.
I should mention consequences to all the events as outlined above. You may remember back to a word “sequestration” being used. This is the Scottish legal term for bankruptcy. Yes I walked away from this a legal bankrupt. People say “Oh I am broke” or “I am nearly bankrupt” without it being actually true. I was, legally and totally bankrupt. This goes in three stages. For the first three years you are a bankrupt, you have to declare it and you have to be clear on it. You can’t be an MP, a director in a company and a few other things. One amusing consequence was that I went into my bank to discuss the situation about three weeks later and the guy asked to see my card, went to find a manager, came back with the balance of my account and told me that I was no longer a customer of the bank and that my account had been immediately closed. The Clydesdale bank was at the forefront of customer care! I didn’t have a bank until 1997 when I went back to Uni. The second set of three years has less red tape though you still have to declare everything and your credit score is shot to hell. The last three years are the post discharge years. You are kind of obliged to say what has happened, it is safest to really but it is still a matter of record. After that last three years your record is removed and you don’t have to say everything. Some companies still ask you and although they have no right to if you say no and they find out you technically have lied on their forms so there is a long lasting legacy if you play it badly.
I lost several relationships with people as a result of this event. Most of the business but a couple of personal ones went to the wall as well. The biggest was with Kolin, who had begun to behave strangely and had asked me to move out of the flat. This wasn’t high on my priority list though as I had too much to deal with. A few business relationships were soured as ongoing credit arrangements meant a few got burned and of course they didn’t want to deal with me afterwards, can’t blame them. At a London convention about a year later I got speaking to the head of Titan, who by then had merged with Diamond and were basically a monopoly in the UK. He took me aside in a very friendly way and explained that for years Jon had lorded it over them. He had taken cheques to conventions and presented them publicly when he knew Titan were tight for cash, he had gone to the office and told them how to run their company and over the 10 years he had dealt with them the one thing he hadn’t done was build a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship. “Frankly, we wanted to destroy him Cory and you just got caught up in the whole thing” he said as my heart sank even further. He said he had asked about getting me a job in Diamond but my association with the shop was enough to preclude that. We went to the bar, he said drinks were on him, we chatted, we laughed, he left, it ended.
Over the years I have overheard my former business partner tell his stories, only the dates have been changed and I know the stories well as I heard them in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they had just happened then. There is a “glory days” trap and he is in it. I have no interest any more, he is part of the past and a past I am pleased to be shot of. As we approach another anniversary of the events outlined I felt it was time to write my part down. I am sure some would disagree with various details and some might even be offended by what I wrote but it is how I remember it happening. As details come back to me, as anecdotes come back to me I might update this post. If anyone who is there jogs a memory I might update as well. Who knows, the past isn’t written in stone!
Thanks for reading.