K-Punk on Marvel UK: K-Punk’s had quite a bit of comics content lately – good stuff; it’s nice to find someone else who thinks that the mid-80s British Invasion wasn’t an unambiguous Good Thing. Anyway now he’s onto UK comics, the Marvel stuff at least. I totally feel his invocation of hen’s-teeth issues of Marvel as windows onto another world. In fact – may I indulge myself for a minute here? (READER’S VOICE: Uh-oh!) Thanks –

This situation went on well into the 80s. There was a big network of comic shops by that time but if you were 11 or 12 and your shopping opportunities were dependent on parental goodwill there was NO CHANCE of your being taken to one. So it was a matter of tracking down the newsagents or chain stores which did semi-randomly get US comics in. WH Smiths in Guildford was one of those, Mum would only let me put four titles on reserve though. I looked at the range available – full of stuff I’d never even heard of – and decided to choose three superhero team comics on the sensible mathematical basis that these would let me read about more characters. And my fourth choice was THOR because he rocked.

Then – unparalleled joy! – the newsagent next to Shapes in Ashtead, where I got taken to get my hair cut, started stocking US comics out of the blue. 60p each and no restrictions on what I could buy – it was heaven. Of course what I bought was ANY OLD SHITE – West Coast Avengers, Web Of Spider-Man, etc etc. In my memories this golden era went on for a year or so but I worked out once that it was a month or two tops before I finally got my parents to take me to Forbidden Planet instead of Hamleys on a trip to London.

This was in the days when FP was on Denmark Street, over the road from where Helter Skelter is now. I have never, ever, seen a shop so magical and exciting. These days FP is a clean and shiny ‘cult megastore’ or some such tosh, back then it was a half-step up from a Head Shop (my mother was rightly horrified and would stand at the door, occasionally communing in sympathy with other parents who shared her plight). Denmark Street was a dirty, higgledy-piggledy place, crawling with geeks and rock musicians, and Planet was separated from the street by a big iron fence. When you rounded that you could get a close look through the grimey windows at unimaginable rarities, but once you were through the little door even greater treasure could be found – import comics at a 20p mark-up, two or three months ahead of the newsagent. The distro deal Marvel US had in the UK meant that comics reached the newsagents here months after they’d come out in the States – presumably to mollify specialist shop owners. Getting them early – even if you had to pay more – was a miracle. I felt initiated, expert, in the loop – a ‘proper’ comics fan at last.