Friday, February 17, 2023

Comic Cuts — 17 February 2023

The good news is that I have the artwork for another book cleaned up and I'll be spending the next week writing a couple of introductions. I've managed to throw myself out of sync: I got one day into researching the introduction that I was planning to write at the beginning of last week and stumbled upon a book on the subject of invisibility – the very subject I'm planning to talk about as this is for the next Steel Claw book. But my week has been so broken up that it made more sense to work on artwork, which I can dip in and out of, and wait until I had a couple of days free to skip-read this book.

My new laptop has been keeping me busy. We (and by 'we' I mean someone else) managed to migrate my emails across from the PC pretty much intact. I need to check everything, but at the moment the only thing that didn't copy across was 11 draft emails. I've no idea why, or how I fix the problem. Not that it's a major problem, as some of those drafts date back to 2006.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the task ahead, let me begin by saying that I tend to do things on an industrial scale. So there was over 20gb of emails to transfer from version 5 of my email programme to the laptop, on which we put version 102 (!!!) of the same programme.

Throughout the week I have been loading up various programmes. Not a vast number, but to a non-techie like myself getting a USB connector into the right socket is a breakthrough and doing something as complex as downloading a programme is like wizardry. Installing the programme once it's downloaded is Dark Arts stuff that I'm not sure I should be involved in.

Getting a programme to run is just the first salvo of my problems. For instance, on iTunes I currently have links to 713 albums and subscribe to 54 podcasts (I refer you back to my "industrial scale" comment above). Getting that lot set up again is going to take a while. I did, however, manage to install Windows Office all by myself and it works! I was so proud I emailed Mel at work to let her know she was living with a genius.

Talking of which... I mentioned some bad news last week. Well, Mel's place of work — and my former employers on and off for thirty years — are shutting up shop. Aceville Publications was the home of Comic World in 1992-95, and I was also editor of various other titles for them over the years: Model & Collectors Mart, a short-lived spin-off about radio controlled models, a 4x4 magazine (and me a non-driver!), Science Fiction World in 2000, a few titles that never made it, and most recently Hotel Business. My last work for them was in 2018-19, writing material for their What Franchise? website.

When I started, just before Christmas 1991, the firm was in a ramshackle building at 89 East Hill, Colchester, with three floors. I was tucked away around a corner at the back of the top office and pretty much left to my own devices. This was in the days of typesetters, waxing strips of text to board and doing colour markups on sheets of tracing paper. Graham Baldock, our designer, did that on the kitchen table of the house where I was living, and then we would race across town to the railway station to send everything off by Red Star to the printers in Leeds. When I started, I was the only employee with a computer and I was able to give our typesetters most of the magazine's text on a 5 1⁄4-inch floppy.

We moved to Castle House, literally carrying desks up the hill to get to our new home, where we had more space and the company began to expand beyond the range of 'Mart' titles filled with advertising on crappy newsprint, to glossy mags like Teddy Bear Club International and Telecard Collector International, both of which I wrote for. I remember there was an offshoot company based down on the south coast which published Making Money, which I also wrote for — often early issues to help get them off the ground until they could build up a stable of writers.

The technology was changing: the editorial staff now had computers and we used Zip drives to take our computer files to designers and then to outputters where we could get a colour cromalin proof printed off.

Freelancing from home, meant having a second phone line installed so we could access this new thing called the internet. I remember staying up all night trying to download pictures to accompany movie articles. Aceville were expanding into crafts magazines and business publications and sold off their Mart titles to Trinity Mirror (publishers of the Daily Mirror), who set up Trinity Publications in Birmingham. I worked for them and then for MS Publishing, another Aceville spin-off which had big plans to launch a slate of magazines but which folded four issues into their two debut titles.

I had some great times at Aceville with some fantastic people. The company was greatly expanded when I went back to work for them in 2015. They were in a new building at the Hythe, which I knew because Mel had been working there for many years. The company was taken over in its entirety by DC Thomson in 2018 and everyone thought they were going to be able to weather any problems that the print industry was facing — primarily rising costs and falling advertising revenue. At the time, Aceville had about 50 magazines (up from the 17 they were publishing in 1996); but that figure had fallen to around 35-40 when I went back briefly in 2018/19.

Now the whole company is to close, with Thomson also closing half a dozen titles edited at their Dundee HQ. It's a sad end for Aceville, especially as the company was doing well, as far as we knew. DCT called it "one of the fastest-growing publishing houses in the UK" only five years ago, but now they're making £10m in cuts... presumably because they could only pay their shareholders £24m in dividends last year.

What we need is for Aceville's founder, Martin Robinson, to buy the company back, re-employ the hugely skilled teams – editorial, design, the IT guys, the photographers, the advertising staff – that made the company one of the fastest-growing publishing houses in the UK, and let them get back to producing magazines.

(* Illustrations this week are some of the magazines I worked on at Aceville. The only one that isn't is Books, Maps & Prints, which had already folded by the time I arrived, although I found some back issues in storage. Comic Collector was where I started in 1991; Teddy Bear was edited by Nikki Smith, whose boyfriend I employed on Comic World towards the end of its run; Telecard Collector was run by a weird guy called John Walters, who had to be bailed out of trouble more than once; Period Ideas I worked on for a couple of months, filling-in for the sub-editor who had broken her leg.... all I really remember of it was running around the streets of Colchester photographing rotting window frames for one of the articles I wrote; and What Franchise was my last job there in 2018-19, writing 120,000+ words for their website rather than the print mag. We were (I'm bound to say) overworked and underpaid, but I have so many happy memories – all of them about the people we worked with in house or as freelancers. It's sad to see it all pass on to that great editorial office in the sky.)

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