Stephen McGinty - Comic-book world thrives when left to lurk in the shadows
TWENTY years ago comic-book fans in Glasgow were divided. It was like the Sharks and the Jets, only instead of wearing cool satin jackets, carrying flick-knives and breaking into slick choreographed routines at the sight of each other, we simply exchanged withering glances, pulled the hoods on our duffel coats ever-tighter and strolled off in opposite directions, each bearing our own plastic bag stuffed with the latest issues of the Green Lantern and Batman.
The division, or fault line, that ran through the comic community was where each person purchased their monthly order of DC or Marvel titles.
Prior to 1988, there had been no choice: everyone trooped down to the Virginia Arcade, a cluster of little shops just off Argyle Street, that was home to AKA Books and Comics. A tiny shop for whom any young comic fan's dream was to secure a Saturday job behind the solitary till, with each successful applicant offered the choice of hard cash or a slightly larger sum in credit. Everyone chose credit; how could you not when we were all living through a new golden age in comics? The Dark Knight Returns had been published a few years previously, followed up by Watchman, Batman: Year One and then The Killing Joke, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's now-classic take on the origins of The Joker. I never quite made it behind the till – in an official capacity at least – but our gang of comic fans still hung out at the store for an average of two to three hours each Saturday arguing over favourite issues and artists.
And then the rumours began – the competition was coming to town. Forbidden Planet, the landmark London store to which we had all, at some point, made a pilgrimage on day-trips south, was planning to open a branch in Glasgow. When the day dawned and the store opened its doors at a central site at the top of Buchanan Street, our group felt bound by loyalty to take a swift tour round its shelves and then report back any deficiencies – what little we could find to try appease the depressed frowns on the faces of our friends at AKA. Over the next few months there was defections among staff and customers, but the regulars held firm and resisted the tantalising opportunity of a larger stock.
Then AKA moved further out to Parnie Street and eventually changed hands, and the guilt of any purchases at FP slowly lessoned. Now, as Forbidden Planet celebrates its 20th anniversary in the city, it's interesting to see how much American comics have penetrated the popular culture. This summer it seems almost every movie is based on a comic book with Iron Man, The Hulk and The Dark Knight competing with new comics such as Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy but based on the comic book created by Mark Millar, a regular customer at both AKA Books and Comics and Forbidden Planet.
Yet the geek in me believes we are fast reaching saturation point. Flicking through this month's edition of Vogue (the American edition, much classier), I came upon the pictures from a recent fashion bash in New York which was styled on a superhero theme and had supermodels and fashion writers extolling the virtues of their favourite comic-book character. When Anna Wintour starts regaling us about superheroes it's time for the backlash to begin. The comic book should never be too cool. It's at its best when mocked and derided and will only topple off any pedestal on to which it is raised. The brilliance of the spotlight focused on comics will lead to burn-out. Comics thrive best in the shadows to which, I hope, they will soon return.
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