Friday, May 26, 2023

Comic Cuts — 26 May 2023

Somehow all our days out in May have been condensed into the last week. Also, I have drunk more this week than the rest of the year combined.

On Saturday night, ACE Comics celebrated its 40th anniversary with a bash in one of the upstairs bars at a local brewery and pub, the Three Wise Monkeys, which has been quite a success since it opened... er... at least six years ago, since when it has expanded into what used to be Jack's, a general store where you could buy everything from nails and washers to four candles (that's one for us oldies!). There was a charity shop there, briefly, before the whole place was emptied and renovations began that took over three years to complete. Partly that was because it was discovered that the building was sitting on an ancient Roman baths and the Colchester Archaeological Trust excavated a deep pit where the floor had once been so they could

We were in the bar above the former shop which opened (I think) in 2021. A lot of the old timber roof has been preserved along with other original features, although the exterior has been overhauled completely. It's still a cosy bar on two levels and a good choice for a crowd to get together.

This was the 40th anniversary of ACE Comics, and I started going there in 1986, first visiting the shop when it was located in a narrow road that led up to the gates of Colchester Castle. I had been picked up by a comic-collecting pal of mine, John Clark, who had suggested a trip to visit the shop. John drove over from Maldon, picked me up in Chelmsford, and we headed for Colchester.

I remember it looking like it should be a dingy little place from the outside, but it wasn't. If I remember correctly, there was a copy of The Dark Knight Returns on the wall behind the counter. Although I didn't find any British comics, I had been reading 2000AD regularly at that point and knew that some of the creators had made their way across the pond, most notably Brian Bolland (Camelot 3000) and Alan Moore. I definitely bout back issues of Swamp Thing during that first trip, and filled in most of the gaps on a subsequent trip. #20 proved a bit elusive, although I did eventually find a copy. I think I picked up a Superman Annual drawn by Dave Gibbons on that second trip ('For the Man Who Has Everything'), which might have been the first superhero comic I ever bought, as I was never a fan of American comics when I was growing up.

From there on I followed most British creators as the invasion took hold in the wake of Watchmen, which had me taking regular trips over to Colchester by train so that I could pick up copies the day they arrived. I remember Cam Kennedy drawing the Wagner/Grant series The Outcasts, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's beautiful Black Orchid, the launch of Hellblazer by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway and then the mad rush of Vertigo.

In 1987 I began writing for the ACE-backed fanzine After Image, and in 1989 I was involved in putting together the Comic Book Price Guide, which was co-edited by one of ACE Comics' staff, Lance Rickman (and which almost didn't happen due to a last-minute computer crash!), by which time the shop had moved from Museum Street to a much larger premises in St. John's Road. In 1992 I moved  to Colchester to make editing Comic World easier (I had been commuting for five months) and was in the shop most days for the next three years. Mel and I wrote news columns for the ACE Comics mail-order magazine Illuminations between 1996 and 2002.

I still think it's unbelievable that I have been visiting ACE Comics for 37 of its 40 years. Something definitely worth celebrating... and we certainly did! I was definitely a bit wobbly on my feet by the end of the evening. I don't drink much these days, so I'm a cheap date. Thankfully, Mel was my designated sober person and we got home safely.

We swapped roles on Tuesday and I was offering moral rather than physical support for a trip to the Job Centre and to an interview. As that's not my story to tell, I'll just say that both went well, although we don't know the results of either, yet.

And it was my Mum's birthday this week, so she came over on Wednesday and we had a very nice meal down at the Rose & Crown on the river front. Sunny, slightly breezy but no swarms of insects which can sometimes be the bane of eating outside. We sat in the park afterwards before heading back home for cake. All in all a lovely day.

We're out again tonight (I'm writing this Thursday afternoon), but I'll leave that for next week. One weird thing we did see when we were in town on Tuesday was this huge statue of a dog. Just standing there outside Elms Home Decor ("Your local, independent carpet and flooring specialist"). The significance of this giant gold Bulldog escapes us, but it is rather magnificent.

(Thanks to Biff, Tina and Kerry for organising the party — that's Martin 'Biff' Beeson and his daughter Kerry in the photo at our column head. Here's to another 40 years of ACE Comics!)

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