Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors Community - Part 8: The Final Curtain

Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors Community - Part 8: The Final Curtain


Part Eight: The Final Curtain


Every method in our madness,
And pride about our manner,
Fanboys are the warriors,
Comics are the banner!


I feel beneath the slight,
There is a fanboy suffering,
From centuries of taming...


A new Royal Family, a wild nobility, we were the first-tier members from the West Reading Comic Collectors’ Community, all 100% dedicated Marvelites. And this the story of the end, the last of ours parts, the final solution, the one in which I learn to stop collecting and learn to love the wad, and where I go from all-colour rags to riches.


Me: at this point in our tale, comics were still my passion, but increasing amounts of fair-weather cloud were streaming across my sky…


Girls – essentially anthropomorphic and preferably cute,

Rock music – by way of the ears and fingers, initially a classical Spanish guitar that had been gathering dust for the last few years unloved and unstrummed, discarded since the age of nine when I had briefly and unsuccessfully tried to learn how to play it,

Lager - my poison of choice though I viewed any form of intoxicating liquor as fair game, often in entirely experimental and unhealthily large doses. Even Watney’s Pale Ale which was notoriously compared to making love in a punt, because it was firkin close to water.


Andy D: my long-term collector friend whose star was waning as our hormones pulled us in different directions. However, his stay of execution had been delayed for a while yet as we were developing very similar tastes in music, both trying to learn how to play our recent acquisitions, really godawful cheap electric guitars, both from Woolies and both with a fingertip-shredding high action. Also, before I could scrounge enough pennies for my own, his mum had bought him an amp, once more from a mail order catalogue. So, he would occasionally lend me his until I could finally afford my own. Sadly, when I finally got one, it proved to be a monstrosity that had to be quickly upgraded. This was to a really nice Marshall combo when I got a summer job a couple of years later in ‘78. I also earned enough in those few weeks before I started my sentence at Uni to further replace my slightly improved replacement guitar with a top-end Fender Stratocaster.


Wayne [beholding the guitar with reverence]: it will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.


That axe was a thing of beauty and made some wonderful sounds through my very loud 30W Marshall, particularly when I used my Big Muff.


Jules: say what again, I dare you, I double dare you...

Garth: it’s sucking my will to live!


In fact, my Big Muff was a very early form of fuzz box. Hmm, that doesn’t sound too good, either. So, how about distortion pedal?


Wayne and Garth: we’re not worthy… we’re not worthy!


Oh yes, in terms of staying friends with Andy D, there was also his sister’s friend, a very pretty colleen, pert figure, long dark hair, called Mary. In our demographic, this name was the female equivalent of the ubiquitous Andrew, mostly because most of the girls we knew were:


One - associated with our RC church, though it was mostly attended by a flock of religious Nazi hypocrites who silently farted whilst they knelt in supplication on their pews. This was my most profound memory of those Sunday morning masses, alongside witnessing the occasional faint and fit. Probably not a result of the farts but they didn’t help.


Shepherd: get the flock outta here.


Two – Irish, the most common form of Catholic in West Reading and probably because they bred like rabbits. Those kids from the largest families in school, often with eight plus siblings, were all Irish and Catholic. Ironically, their dads seldom ever had the type of salary to support such broods, so these kids were usually the poorest and were dressed accordingly. When it came to using contraceptives, or not, their parents really took the words of the Holy Fadder seriously.


Question: what do you call people who use the rhythm method?

Answer: parents.


Question: can you use aspirin as birth control pill?

Answer: yes, if you hold it between your knees.


Question: what do nerds use for birth control?

Answer: their personalities.


Question: is there a male birth control pill that can be taken the next day?

Answer: yes, it changes the blood type.


Did you know: birth control is a condom missed conception.


Did you know: birth control pills should be for men because it makes more sense to unload a gun than

shoot at a bulletproof vest.


Did you know: there is new male birth control gel where the man applies it for about two minutes and then realizes he no longer needs sex.


Three – Mary attended the convent girls’ school closely affiliated with my all-boys concentration camp. It was called St Joseph’s, or Holy Joes, and was likewise festooned with hordes of shy, suppressed virgins. It was run by sadistic sisters as equally mad as the mad monks that ran my school. Those girls did like to party, though.


Before I left school at the end of my A-Levels, many of my school mates still remained fixated on these convent girls. But, outside of school, Andy W and I had discovered a much richer and healthier vein. They came from the other girls’ grammar school in Reading which was definitely not catholic. The school was called Kendrick and their parties were in a different league, but that’s another story. And, regarding Andy W, let’s get back to our cast list…


Andy W - definitely not Catholic. Never was. Never could be. Not with that libido. If he strictly went by the words of the Holy Fadder, the country would now be overrun by teaming hordes of little Ws.


Andy W was a more recent collector friend whose moon was rising as our adolescent needs drew us increasing closer. No, not in that way. Though we too shared a passion for rock music and liked to make music, our biggest uniting factor was the strictly limited membership of two into our brotherhood of sexual nomads, on the hunt for the female persuasion. Andy went to Stoneham Boys School which many years later merged with the adjacent Westwood Girls School and became Prospect School, sharing the same name as the local park where my sister had her first titillating semisexual experience.


In the same way I found better-adjusted grammar school girls by losing my religion, we also found a better set of male acquaintances and friends, albeit in a more music-orientated vein, from the other boys’ grammar, Reading School. Coincidentally, my dad went there when he was growing up. Though he returned to education to teach sport and technical drawing, it was at the local catholic secondary modern, commonly attended by the kids from those very large Irish families. Unfortunately, it was located right next door to my school, the adjacent sports fields separated by a sprinkle of trees and the merest of grass banks. That proximity led to a couple of unpleasant encounters in the first year at my school, usually walking home with Andy D, both of us not much bigger than grass-hoppers when, more often than boys, some older and nastier girls from that school recognised me as the son of my father and pointed it out in rather uncomfortable ways. Thanks, life.


Irish man: just remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.

Basil: really? I’d love to meet them. I could do with a bloody laugh.


Howard: I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!

Jules: and you will know my name is the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Trinity: dodge this.


Here is what actually happened: outnumbered, out-aged, out-sexed and outsized, we had little choice but to be diplomatic, agree with every trashing they gave my dad (not hard, most of it was true) then run like hell, return home unscathed and seek solace in our comics. Bah, I bet the Hulk could crush those puny human girls.


This period of coming of age also saw me cast off my last dying affiliations with the church. The only thing that kept me going right then, though I no longer went to the Sunday morning services, was that I favoured the six-thirty mass. This was because the church youth club followed immediately afterward. In fact, many of us skipped the service altogether, instead waiting and socialising in the adjacent community centre. If there was one of my acquaintances that would not have been entirely welcome, it was…


Joe G: my freshly ex-collecting partner who had slithered back into his cave from whence he peered with oversized, childlike eyes and pulsating forehead. Really. It pulsated. I kid you not. Prominent bluish veins framed his oversized, ash-white expanse of forehead and they visibly throbbed, particularly when he got himself agitated. But I hadn’t entirely deserted him yet. We continued to play strategic board games and chess in his front room. It might have been dark in there, but at least we had a radio. I have profound memories of being blown away hearing Art for Art’s Sake by 10CC for the first time, as we munched on that fundamentally Irish snack of well-buttered toast, each a relief painting of yellow Himalayas, and sipped at an accompanying cup of tea.


Now we have covered the principal players, let’s drop down a gear or two and re-introduce the WRCC second-leaguers.


Andy T: Andy W’s younger collecting partner and neighbour. They were still an ongoing concern. Andy T also acquired a guitar and both of us would try to jam along with Andy W on his brand-new beginner’s drum set in his mum and dad’s front room, though his parents’ patience soon wore thin and we were ousted to the garage at the bottom of his garden.


The following year, when AW and I met a bunch of musos, a couple of hailing from Reading school, at the Methodist youth club in Tilehurst (none of us were Methodists, not sure a real Methodist ever actually went to that club), we formed a band and continued to used Andy’s garage as our rehearsal venue. Waitrose provided a plentiful supply of cardboard boxes to soundproof the walls but our DIY ethos failed us miserably when we tried to imbue a certain ambience and painted the hanging lightbulb with red emulsion. It exploded as soon as we turned it on.


Winston H: a good friend, now less into comics and more into music.


Jerry H: Winston’s buddy. His scant blips on the radar had faded away entirely by this point.


Ivor E: that little bit older, that little less innocent, but he was still our youngest collector.


Mark K: had also fallen off our comic radar. His focus had turned to music. Andy W stayed in touch with him and it was through Mark via Andy that I was introduced to early synth pioneers like Klaus Schulze (still a hero today and still adore his very spacey Mirage album) and Vangelis (Albedo 0.39).


Michael W: another who never made it back after we expelled him from the community like a guff of bad wind. It was for a heinous deed enacted with the exact opposite of criminal master-mindfulness. Stupid was as stupid did.


Outside of the community, we have also seen mention of various school mates that had some relevance to our story. Obviously, they still featured in my life, though less so on the comic front as we all grew up.


Tim S: Polish, invested Marvelite but never made that leap to collector – remained a good friend for many years to come though we lost touch over the years after he married and moved to North London.


Tim L: fair weather Marvelite, him of the wealthy father and unhealthy dental apparatus – disappeared into oblivion though he did ping me once on Friends Reunited when it was all the rage. We chatted a bit and that was it, another modern epitaph to a lost acquaintanceship.


Nino W: half English, half French Canadian, completely non-Marvelite, a good friend at the time, lived a stone’s throw from Stoneham – he was the guy that told me US Marvels were sold at Heathrow when he came back from a trip overseas to see his mother’s family in Canada. This family vacation had become an annual occurrence, made more affordable because his dad was an airline pilot. Many months before Jaws opened in our cinemas, Nino (thus named because he was a cute baby, real name André Michel) had seen it on the plane and told us all about it, describing its attack scenes in bloody detail. We were captivated, our minds going into overdrive, imagining the sea turning red as the shark tore off chunks from its floundering victim. This became the inspiration of my artistic endeavours for quite a few weeks afterwards and I ran dangerously low on red paint.


Back then, you see, we were fixated by gore, the likes of which were rarely seen on British television. Our biggest thrill for many years was that bit in Battle of Britain when a German pilot got his eyes shot out.


Nino and I lost touch when we finished school but he tracked me down a few years back on Linked In. I would have loved to meet up with him again but he had emigrated to distant shores.


Neil: bummer.


Alf W: Polish, non-Marvelite, overweight and allegedly flatulent rent-a-thug who willingly provided his services for free – he stayed in the area and once in a blue moon we’d bump into each other down town, chat on Friends Reunited and even follow up that with a drink. I never required his services again.


Alf was also the inspiration behind my magnum opus, a still unfinished graphic novel about a farting football shaped anti-hero with retractable pneumatic limbs that developed my interest in all things graphical. It has led me indirectly via a failed art A-Level into a career where an aesthetic sensibility is useful, making mobile workflow apps for courier and logistic companies. Sad, I know, but I still get a buzz when I design a functionally complex screen that maintains a sense of harmony and balance.


Now we have finished with the credits and the what-the heck-ever-happened-to-them bit, let’s get back to our story and the tail end to a magnificent summer. Andy D and I had glutted ourselves on a regular diet of London comic marts, greatly increasing the width and depth of our collections. Andies W and T bottled it after the first and never went back. My collection was further enhanced by two strokes of fortune, firstly buying a shedload of great comics, mostly imports, off a nearby kid from a new estate in an unparalleled feeding frenzy and, secondly, inheriting and absorbing cousin Chris’s collection with barely a duplicate. 


One other incident of note happened towards the end of that summer in 1975. The glory here belongs to my long-standing collecting friend, him of the same ten-speed racer, constant patsy in trading and fellow explorer, Andy D. The crazy fool, unbeknownst to any of us in the community, set off on his bike early one Saturday morning, then cycled all the way to London and back, a round trip of around 80 miles, bringing with him a load of Captain America back issues purchased from the UK’s only geek shop, located in Soho, called Dark They Were and Golden Eyed. By no means athletic or remotely sporty, the scrawny little bugger, face sprouting cauliflowers of hormonal rampage, was now amassing quite a respectable collection of this title.


On a slightly sour note, when we went back to school after those fantastic summer hols, a few weeks in which I had practically tripled the size of my US Marvel collection, Tim L once again had another gem that was beyond the reach of us mere minions. Of course, he was generous in his gloating, his decaying teeth starting to show, and lent us his pa-purchased latest Treasury edition, the Marvel Holiday Grab Bag.


The frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg, the egg was a bird, his teeth were like turds.


In October, Marvel U.K. came out with Titans. I bought the first few issues but my heart was no longer in these indigenous comics. By this time, I had dropped all of the other titles, including Super-Heroes despite its Surfer stories. Furthermore, the doomsday clock was starting to tick for my US Marvels too.


This is the end

Beautiful friends

This is the end

My Marvel friends, the end


In November, we had an even longer walk from Paddington, this time to the Lyndhurst Hall mart in Kentish Town, with younger Ivor accompanying AD and me. It had been a while since the last mart, so I had managed to save a little more than usual, with my income supplemented by selling not only sandwiches and wafers but Sainsbury crème caramels and an early form of manufactured panna cotta to the still starving contingent of borders in my form at school.


Feed me, feed me, feed me
Feed me, fanboy
Feed me all night long
That's right, boy
You can do it
Feed me, fanboy
Feed me all night long

Cos if you feed me, fanboy
I can pay you big and strong
Would you like a FF one
Or a Spidey 121
Where the Green Goblin had his fun
You gonna git it
How'd you like to make a big steal
Come away with the bestest deal
I’ve a hunger that can make it all real
You gonna git it
I'm a border, I'm your friend
I'm your wealthy slave

Take a chance, just feed me and
You know the kinda eats
The kinda red hot treats
The kinda sticky licky sweets
I crave

Come on, fanboy, don't be a putz


The highlights for me from this third trip to the Big Smoke included Journey into Mystery 86 and 87; more Starlin Captain Marvels between 25 and 30; some early Warlocks; Fantastic Four 48 in NM, and 51 in VG-NM. I also bought Panelologist number 3 at the rather odd price of nine and a half pence.


An ensuing stock take showed 809 comics worth £123.90. This included other recent acquisitions and boasted Iron Man 54-60, each worth 9p with no recognition of Thanos’ first appearance in 55. JIM 86 had a tape-repaired torn cover so was valued at 70p, but 87 was in better condition and was worth £1. Of that notable twosome I bought from Gary F as related in the last installment, Spider-Man 120 was valued at 11p and 121 was 75p, mostly because it was so damnably rare. I also had Werewolf 32 bought from Willis and Shorts when it came out, and it was valued the same as its cover price of 9p with no recognition of another famous first, that of Moon Knight. Some of my earlier FFs like issue 39 were worth 50p. 48 was already recognised as a landmark because it saw the introduction of the Surfer and was valued accordingly at 60p. Issue 51 was 30p, plus I had Annual 3 in fine condition, though with an all-so-common taped spine which was fortunately not viewed as a massive value detractor, at 65p. My copy of Savage Sword 1 was now worth 45p despite buying it new from the newsagent at Cemetery Junction for 20p.


We now break for a moment’s pause and become unsuspecting voyeurs to a poetically violent scene in a shower:


Punctuated violin stabs





Blood splatter across a curtain

Drips, runs, rains

Rinses down the plug hole


My pleasures

My treasures

In shreds


To the base of the bath


This sadly was it, the pinnacle of my collecting. The funereal flames were about to be lit and though I continued to buy my favourite monthlies from Willis and Shorts for a short while longer, there were going to be:


  • no more back issue purchases - from marts, or fanzines or second-hand shops,
  • no more adventures around town on bike - to find and mine a new vein of warehouse resurrections,
  • no more slightly sexier black and white mags - we had discovered something a lot more colourful and way more adult, like a few random pages from a porn mag crumpled and discarded in the local woods then delicately straightened out,
  • no more bartering on doorsteps – it was more like bring your guitar and “Let’s have a jam”,
  • no more sheer elation at holding a newly acquired precious nugget - unless it was an upgraded piece of musical equipment or a new FX pedal, or…





  • no more blissful sniffing – and that did not evolve into the other common sniffing of the era, namely glue, though I still enjoyed the smell of Airfix polystyrene cement,
  • no more innocence – dammit, the biggest loss in retrospect, though sniffing comes a close second cos my nose worked so much better then.


Paul McCartney: all together now…


Cue the Piano Man.


Reed Richards, two Storms, Ben Grim, Fantastic Four
Stan the man, Jolly Jack, Sturdy Steve Ditko
Peter Parker, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Spiderman
Bruce Banner, Doc Blake, Hulk and Thor


Bullpen, bulletins, Smilin’ Stan, Marvel fans
Heroes, horror, westerns, romance
All colour, black and white, see how the good guys fight
Galactus, Goblin, Mole Man, goodbye


We didn't light the pyre
It was always burning, since boys been growing
We didn't light the pyre
No, we didn't light it, and we didn’t try to fight it


Yes, indeedy, life was starting to change as my inclinations leaned increasingly towards girls, booze and rock’n’roll. However, all was not lost and maybe the beating heart of my fervor had diminished, but it hadn’t slipped into terminal decline yet and, truth be told, could never entirely fade away.


In January 1976, Howard The Duck 1 hit the shops. By now my US intake was diminishing, too, but I still added this as one of my regulars, because I really loved those crazy, satiric stories written by Steve Gerber and beautifully illustrated by Frank Brunner then Gene Colan. On a more negative note, July saw the final issue of Astonishing Tales 36 and the last Deathlok. Though the series never really realised the potential promised by that first appearance in issue 25, it was nevertheless a sad day. Coincident with this gradual waning of interest, Andy D had started to lose his faith as well. For the two of us, our passions ebbed away over that very long and hot summer of ‘76.


Another precipitating event happened in June, just before the peak of the heatwave, when AD and I celebrated the end of our O-Levels by going fishing with rods we had received for Christmas, again from mail-order catalogues. Luckily, they weren’t identical but we cycled our identical mail-order ten-speed racers the three miles to the Kennet Canal, south of town, and parked them unlocked (neither of us possessed one), concealed well we thought under a nearby footbridge. Though it was only a short distance to our chosen location, when we returned a couple of unsuccessful hours later, my bike had gone despite it being placed behind Andy’s. The misfortune was mine because my bike was the best of the two condition-wise, maintained to a higher degree and looking like it wasn’t about to fall apart. Poor Andy, not only had he the mental acuity of a runt semi-beaded abacus and the physique of a jelly bean, but he was also mechanically inept. However, his luck of the Irish had prevailed once more so, for me, that was a long and angst-ridden walk home. He pedaled alongside like a faithful pet dog… Okay, let’s just say a capable mutt that had somehow overcome the odds and mastered the skill of riding a bike.


Muttley: heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.

Dastardly: drat, and double drat. Muttley, do something.

Muttley: snazza frazza rashin' fashin' Rick Rastardly.


It was a stroke of fortune that I still had my semi-retired three-geared bike. However, I had used it for doing stunts, so it was quite badly banged about. Somehow, I managed to resuscitate it, literally knocking it back into a form of working order; and for my efforts I went down with heat stroke from toiling all day in the back garden as the heatwave peaked and the temperatures soared to 97F. By the way, that’s 36C in today’s money. But that bike was not the same as my super light ten-speed and, with slightly buckled wheels and askew pedals, it was hard work. Thus, I no longer had a steed on which I could continue my all-but-effortless traversals of the metropolis to search out and buy comics.


Dastardly: curses, foiled again.


When we had both turned 16 that August and then autumn approached, our hormone production levels really ramped up and the irrevocable changes kicked in big time. Andy D became even less confident with woman and had no interest in drink, and as previously mentioned, he would become increasingly involved with drugs and an alternative lifestyle a few years later. In words of the day, he tuned in, dropped out… and lived off the dole in various squats and nomadic conveyances. But right then we shared similar passions for listening to and making music. So, in October and November, we went to the next scheduled London marts, at the Regent Centre in Carburton Street, London, to sell off parts of our collections before the marts started. Where we once would arrive early and buy discards from fellow collectors outside the doors, now we were the ones who were doing the selling.


Trading was brisk at that first mart and we disposed of most if not all of what we took, always priced to sell. At the second mart, before we really got started, the dealers got wind of our activities and presented us with two choices: bugger off or hire a table. We opted for the latter, splitting the £3 fee between us. At least we could forego the 10p admission fee.


Once more, we came away with a tidy sum, enough for me to buy my first electric guitar from Woolies and several vinyl LPs, all from Cyril’s second-hand shop. My tastes were influenced by three primary factors in those early days. Firstly, I attended a grammar where many of my associates followed in the steps of their older brothers, hence we listened to Genesis, Yes, Camel, Focus, Hawkwind, Deep Purple, ELP and Keith Emerson’s previous outfit, the Nice. Secondly, Mike Oldfield had briefly attended our school when he was a kid, his family home being a short distance away, so Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge were also common turns on the record player in the sixth form common room. Finally, there was the radio with Nicky Horne’s Rock Show on Capital every weekday from 9pm to 11pm, followed by the tail end of the John Peel show; and Fluff Freeman’s Saturday afternoon Rock Show on Radio One.


Regarding that first guitar, it cost little more than ten pounds and was as basic as they came. It took a while for me to scrape enough money to buy an amp and so for a while I made do with various Heath Robinson improvisations, none of them producing much more than a rattly rasping noise.


Rainman: uh oh, fart.


If one of my contraptions could speak, it would probably say this:


Of course, I'm not happy. Look at me, I'm some improv junk. I've got bigger transistors than you do! I've got more wires than a Chinese telephone exchange! I've not seen my original circuit board in two years, which is long enough to declare it legally dead! [On the verge of tears] I can't stop hissing. I crackle because I'm unhappy, and I'm unhappy because I hiss. It's a vicious cycle. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's someone I'd like to get in touch with and forgive... myself. [Farts] Sorry. I farted.


November saw another nail hammered into my comic collecting coffin when Killraven wrapped up in the final issue of Amazing Adventures, number 39. That was another title I had grown to love, written by Don McGregor and drawn by P. Craig Russell. Even worse, this same month also saw the last Warlock, ending at issue 15, and wrapping up Starlin’s run. With no word of any new project from Starlin and with most of my favourite titles now defunct, including the Unknown Worlds magazine, Marvel’s lustre was tarnishing rapidly.


But I know I'm on a selling streak
As I go to Carburton Street
And if you want my mags, then just let me know
And I'll take your cash again


Now the books don't work
They just make it worse
But I know I'll read a page again


Completely the opposite to Andy D whose face continued to erupt in a hideous, technicolour display of molehills and who was becoming anathema to woman-kind, or more likely to any kind of aesthetically-appreciative-kind, Andy W had commenced on a far more conventional journey into adult-kind, falling into a trajectory which coincided with mine-kind. We docked in orbit and became rapidly inseparable as we boldly went in search of girls, traipsing from the near-earth local park to every other likely planet from West Reading to Tilehurst, augmented by the occasional foray into deep space, partaking of the town centre night time attractions.


Thus, in January 1977, compelled by burgeoning needs for money, my dad drove me to my last mart (for a long, long time). It was at the Regent Centre on Carburton Street, now a Holiday Inn. I took the remainder of my collection I was willing to sell. The comics were stacked, still bagless, upright in boxes that had stored reams of A4 paper, brought home from work by my secretarial mum. There were a quite a few I omitted, mostly my fave titles which I couldn’t bear to sell, and probably wouldn’t sell being too recent, such as Killraven in Amazing Adventures, the Deathlok Astonishing Tales, the Strange Tales with Starlin’s Warlock and then those issues when he was reinstated in his own title; plus, Howard the Duck and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. On my own, I hired a table and sold most, pocketing over £55.


That was a lot of money back then. That could buy well over 150 pints of beer.


My dad was for once impressed. He had often opined how my collecting was a waste of money and he was never convinced when I tried to explain that it was an investment. How sweet it was to wave that wad in his face!


Ozymandias: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Travis: suck on this.

Dad, unphased: here’s looking at you, kid.

Me, still not entirely convinced: you don't understand! I coulda had comics. I coulda been a collector. I could've been a fanboy, instead of wealthy, which is what I am.

Dad, placatingly: you're getting on. You're pushing 17. You know, it's time to think about getting some ambition.

Me: I always figured I'd live a bit longer without it.


That tidy sum allowed me to buy some new rather than second-hand vinyl, like Ra by Utopia, wunderkind Todd Rundgren’s prog outfit’s latest record, and guitar genius Jeff Beck Live with the Jan Hammer Group, both of which I’d heard tracks from on the Nicky Horne show, and both remain terrific listens if you like that sort of thing.


I also replaced my cheap finger shredder with a superior, second-hand Avon SG guitar, the pinnacle of our pragmatic pining at the lordly sum of £40 from Cyril’s second-hand shop. The cost was offset by part-exchanging my Woolies highly-strung plank for almost double its value. This I achieved by carefully scraping and sanding off the awful factory tortoiseshell, redoing it in a nice light blue paint job and changing its scratchboard from black to white.


The money even stretched to the nasty first amp from my mum’s club book. Andy D also had a slightly better guitar but he still had his mail-order amp that predated mine. However, he was becoming increasingly less sociable and was not inclined to jam. Meanwhile, with Andy’s W & T, our rather pointless musical meanderings, unpleasantly tuneless, noisy and with little skill, became more frequent in AW’s carless garage. At those volume levels, it was certainly not a carless whisper.


By then, Andy W and I were already beginning to wear our influences of punk, ska and reggae, particularly the echo-laden heavy dub that John Peel favoured, though we only dreamed of owning one of those expensive echo devices sorely needed to get the authentic sound. These were motorized contraptions with a revolving two-foot loop of quarter inch magnetic tape that passed over four write heads, at different spacings to get different delay speeds, picked up by one read head and then wiped clean by one erase head. It was one of these, a Watkins Copicat, that became the first thing I bought when I received my first term’s university grant, before any text books and probably before any food. For the sheer novelty, I paid for it in cash, just over £100 with a wad of £1 notes, just so I could see and feel what a £100 looked like. And throw it over my bed repeatedly.


Barry Allen: what are your superpowers again?
Batman: I'm rich.

Charlie: aauugh.

Octopussy : I wondered when you might arrive.


All the while, the younger Andy T remained a committed rocker. For Andy W and I, the Police went on to become our biggest inspiration for quite a few months.


Well, someone told me yesterday
That when you throw your comics away
You act as if you just don't care
You look as if you're going somewhere


But I just can't convince myself
I couldn't live with nothing else
And I can only remember the art
And sit and nurse my broken heart


Paul McCartney: all together now…


Sue Lawley
Sue Lawley

Sue Lawley

Sue Lawley


Charlie: aauugh.

Reagan: shut it.

Caesar: et tu, Brute?


Within two years, my gear would be replaced by the aforementioned beautiful Fender Strat with tremolo, in maple with a black scratch plate and maple fret board (still got it), that Big Muff Pi fuzz box (subsequently bastardised into a pedal board, which has been replaced many times over), Cry Baby wah-wah (replaced twice) and, on return from uni, a Marshall stack (which killed both my back and first car, so it was quickly downgraded).


Trivia point one: if you’re wondering why I went for this particular set up, it was like so many other guitarists of this era, we were all greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, who allegedly used the same at various points in his career.


Trivia point two: as mentioned earlier, these acquisitions were funded by a pre-university summer job on a building site. Back then, you could literally walk onto a site, ask for work as an unskilled labourer and start that day, with no H&S requirements, training or previous experience.


Trivia point three: yay the old days.


Andy from The Office: I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.


The death knell for my first phase of collecting phase pealed out loud and clear that May 1977, when I purchased my last US Marvel comic, issue 12 of Howard The Duck.


Dearly beloved, we gather here today to honor the memory of a collection. Most knew it simply as Pile. Pile’s life was tragically cut short at a very young age by a sudden and urgent need for spondulicks. I’m saddened to say, it never really hit its stride or had the chance to grow up to enjoy what might have been its prime.


In fact, my hobby didn’t die that day but slipped into a serious coma, where it lay unloved and forgotten for quite a few years. Meanwhile I was too busy living and it stayed like this, a dormant volcano, until the end of the eighties when I had settled down, married and started a family. This second time around, when it erupted once more, my finances were not quite as limited, but were still necessarily restricted. However, it enabled me to use collecting as a diversion, a panacea, to find some escape from the ongoing struggles of career and life. It has stayed with me ever since and of course my tastes have broadened in what I read now, but I still enjoy trying to get a few of those earlier Marvels, though most of the gaps I need to fill are way beyond anything I can afford. I also enjoy making music but seldom find the time and then it’s only on my own, in my keyboard-centric, midi-based home studio. The Fender Strat is still there, too, though my workhorse is a Charvel Jackson 80s poodle-rock axe I purchased in the nineties.


Best of all? Comic heroes are so cool and so universally accepted these days. Now I can proudly wear a (tastefully selective) T-shirt bearing a Marvel character and draw appreciative comments almost anywhere on the planet:


In New York - viewing Van Gogh’s Starry Night in the Met and having my Surfer top admired by the attendant security guard.

In Sorrento - a waiter fascinated by my Thing top with its “Clobberin’ time” speech bubble.

In the Philippines - a bunch of genuinely friendly and pleasant teens impressed by my Avengers top.


I can read comics and be proud.

I can freely talk about reading comics.

I don’t need to feel embarrassed.

I can watch movies about my comic heroes.

I can immerse myself in TV series about my comic heroes.


I can stay on the magic roundabout.


Zebedee: time for bed.


Reluctantly, our ensemble cast, those characters I have often so cruelly caricatured over the course of these tales, all real but exaggerated, come together to join me in one final song. Before the closing credits play, we gather at the foot of the stairs in descending height order. We sing…


So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night

I hate to go and leave this nostalgic flight

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu

Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu

So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen

I'd like to stay and share my second campaign

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye -- goodbye

I'm sad to go, I cannot tell a lie

I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly

The tale has come to end and so must I

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye


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