Walking home that nightOctober 16th, 1989. So many people who came to the opening of Squonk!! are no longer with us and that's the saddest part of having an anniversary like this...
The sack across my back, the sound of sobbing on my shoulder.
When suddenly it stopped,
I opened up the sack, all that I had
A pool of bubbles and tears - Just a pool of tears.
It was a song written by mssrs Collins, Rutherford, Banks and Hackett in 1975. It opened the Trick of the Tail album, the first post-Gabriel. It isn't even my favourite track on the album, yet in the face of having to call my greatest business venture 'The Comics Hall', this left field suggestion was always going to be a winner.
Comic books and Genesis were the two things of my youth. I even attempted to launch a prog fanzine off the back of my comics fanzine, back in the 1970s, called Squonk Images. So when I mentioned this, everyone in the room seemed to think this was the perfect name for a comics shop; and I know I'm biased, but I still think it's in the Top One of comic shop names, even today...
Squonk!! (the exclamation marks were important and caused the bank all kinds of problems printing my cheque books) was a very half-arsed retail venture. I have to be honest, because with hindsight, I'm amazed I didn't die of embarrassment; it was as slick as a penny farthing and looked like it had been conceived, built and painted by a group of intellectually challenged goldfish.
I took £317.58 on the opening day (I still have all my takings books) and for the first time in my life felt as though I was in charge of my own destiny. That day began with a song called 'Big New Beginning' by The Big Dish and the first customer didn't walk through the door until 11.12am.
I had little or no idea how to run a shop and I made huge swathes of mistakes during the first 12 months and yet, miraculously I managed to stay on top of things, despite interest rates going through the roof and me struggling to stock much else other than comics. Comics were still very much big business in 1990 and I was approached by an investor, who, at the time was buying into a viable business, but by the time he was £8k lighter in his pocket, his stake was worth about half of that. My second business partner bought out my first and let me run the business the way I'd begun to learn how and by March 1991 it was in the black.
Suddenly, I had a small success on my hands. The bank was no longer a worry; I'd saved a couple of hundred quid in monthly bank charges and suddenly the black figures were growing larger. It was a glorious 6 weeks and then the shit hit the fan. Wellingborough Council, bless their hearts, decided to shut the street Squonk!! was situated on; the dramatic loss in passing trade was quite astonishing. By 1991, I needed to take £1100 a week to pay my bills, myself and keep the bank balance stable, anything more than that - woohoo - anything less, then time begins to run out.
Within two weeks of the planned 3 month closure, my takings had dropped by 50%, fortunately for me so had most other shops. By week six, when the council reopened the road, I had plunged to over £2000 in the red - worse than I had ever been in the previous two years - but the reopening didn't bring a flood of customers; in fact some I never saw again - they had bought their monthlies somewhere else and decided to stay (Eternity in MK did okay out of me).
By September 1991, I was in dire straits and only a massive sale at a London comic mart, which generated the £2000 I needed to ward off the wolves, saved out skins. We were all right for a while, but we needed to generate more business; we plunged into mail order, did more comics fairs and marts and I began to not pay Peter to pay Paul.
The shop started to really stagger in the March of 1992. Interest rates were 16%; I was two months in arrears with my rent and three months with my rates. The only people being paid were Diamond and they were helpful in some ways and a massive hindrance in others. Another massive sale in London generated less than £500 and at a subsequent one in Leeds, I came home with £100. It was barely enough to keep myself afloat.
In the May, with no sublet shops, no new comics, no likelihood of any form of cash injection and after a long 3-way conversation with Dez Skinn and Mike Conroy, I decided to pull the plug. Squonk!! shut around the 25th of May; it took more money on its last day than it did on its first...
Without Squonk!! I would never have ended up working for Comics International for 11 years; I would never have ended up working with the homeless and with young offenders; I wouldn't have created Borderline quite as successfully as I did.
20 years on... the wife is still here; so is Colin Theobald - the designer of the Squonk!! logo, that sits in my shed. Neil McOnie, Matt DeMonti, Luan 'Mammary Lass' Jones - all paid staff are still family/friends; Glynn is no longer with us... Scott Goodman, the world's scariest Saturday lad is still as large as life and he and Jay Eales remain two of my best friends. Dez - the bloke who ran the Head shops and Roger, the bloke who did my accounts - are still my closest friends. An ex-customer of mine even plumbed in our new bathroom for us last year and I worked with his girlfriend! Just last week, brother Ron was at a comic mart, up north, and he met a guy who was one of my customers during the last days of its life. He was pretty sure this bloke must of had me confused with someone else because of the unbelievably wonderful picture he painted of his brother. Squonk!! haunts me in a good way...
The first ever email address I ever had and still the used, most often, today is a squonk address. The name of our quiz team is Squonk and its also the name of my fantasy football team... It's never been a password to anything! It resonates throughout my life and I'll probably have it engraved on my tombstone, just to make people in 200 years wonder... There are things about my past I'd gladly change right now if I could, but the only thing I would have changed out my Squonk!! years would be the location. If I'd been patient and waited, I might still be doing it today...
It was 20 years ago... so much has been lost, so much has been found.