Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Break with Tradition

I should be writing this in July 2011, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of one of the highlights of my life.

Nine years ago this week, I was still the organ grinder's main monkey; engaged in a strange game, which I was always going to lose. Playing piggy in the middle, fiddling while Rome didn't burn, but smouldered in the corner, creating a massive stink.

2001 came in with ominous signs. Comics International, the once proud leader in the field of comics journalism, was struggling with a number of crises. Advertising revenue had fallen; sales had dropped to a new low, staff (at least some of us) were facing diminishing returns (or in other words, we were having our pay cut) and the owner was having a mid-life crisis and was in the process of shifting the entire magazine to Brighton. They were fraught times and at times I was grateful that I had other little jobs that pepped up the coffers.

The atmosphere at Comics International was always tinged with an element of paranoia - it was the way my boss operated, but in 2001 it was rife. For reasons irrelevant to this, I had built myself into a position of considerable influence, especially since 1998. My relationship with my employer had changed significantly and by 2001 we were still boss and employee, but I really ran the show. Without me Comics International didn't come out. In the past, the magazine had been delayed because I'd been on holiday and my boss couldn't be arsed to bring it out without me making sure that it was perfect. He polished the diamonds, but I made sure they were all in the right places and that everything in the process flowed smoothly.

Oddly enough, I'd once been warned not to kid myself into believing that I was important, because in my then employer's grand scheme of things, only he was important, everything else was expendable. But part of the adventure of working for this man was seeing how much you could manipulate him while making him think he was manipulating you. By 2001, I was confidante for both my boss and the man who would eventually become editor and destroy the magazine. Oddly enough, I deluded myself in thinking that I was the go-between, right up until the moment when it ended.

I was playing a dangerous political game. The two people I was standing between were old friends, but had got to the stage where they hardly spoke. Having been in a similar position myself several years earlier, I was in a good place to 'liaise'. The problem was I, if I'd been as cold as either of them, I wouldn't have been selective about the information I shared with both of them.

The upshot was that I got played for a kipper by one and ended up telling the other to stick his job up his arse. I solved the crisis at Comics International and left myself in a complete mess at 39 years old...

I was full of bitterness and it took about three years for it to completely disappear and another two for others to leave me alone. I had initially wanted to gain some kind of revenge and the only way I could think was to show my ex-boss just what he had allowed himself to lose.

Rewind a few months. As stated the magazine I worked for was experiencing an impending downsizing and yet the UK comics industry seemed to be thriving despite the failings of its flagship newspaper. I had started networking with a number of old friends and new kids on the block at the Bristol comics expo and we started to talk about producing a comics magazine with a difference. I'd been working on various prototypes for years (mainly for fun), and with CI in turmoil...

My sudden departure from the magazine, in June 2001, hastened a flurry of activity; a number of contributors left Comics International and rather sweetly pledged their allegiance to me and suddenly we had a team of people ready to put together a new comics magazine, something that was going to break moulds.

The general consensus was that if we were going to do something different, we had to deliver it differently and most importantly make it about comic books and not just a sub-genre, albeit an all-powerful sub-genre - spandex! I had to overcome various problems - some people refused to get involved because they felt all I was doing was trying to get one over my old boss; others couldn't get their head around the concept of being edited, while others just didn't think we could succeed. But eventually I assembled a team of people with bags of enthusiasm and a lot of talent.

On August 1st, 2001, BORDERLINE arrived. It was different. It was a magazine, but it wasn't. It was a PDF file. It could be read on a screen or printed out. It was also, quite remarkably, free! It received criticism for not being a website, criticism for using a format that was not liked (some people actually said they wouldn't download it because IRS forms were also PDFs, huh?) and criticism for not being someone else's idea.

It lasted a little over two years - 20 issues and two specials. It had more highs and lows than valleys in Wales and it won an award. I could quite easily write 10,000 words of excellence about it and never once mention anything I contributed to it. It was innovative, relevant and blew every other comics magazine out of the water. But, the only way for people to be able to see this is for them to see it. Provided I have done this right, there should be a new gadget box on the right of this page, under the banner - Borderline Magazine. If I've done everything correctly, you should be able to download or view any or all of the issues we produced.

In 2001, it took a little under an hour to download a low resolution version of Borderline. Low res versions were 1meg, high res versions, which could take 6 hours to download ranged from 5 to 13meg. You can now download all 22 issues in the same amount of time as it took to download one.

While I've been doing this, I looked at some of the issues, to see if they stood the test of time. I know what I thought, it'll be interesting to see what some of you think.

No comments:

Post a Comment