Passionate about Comics: A kind of Interview with Richard Bruton
Richard Bruton is an ex-comics retailer and lifelong comics fan. His reviews, posted at the Forbidden Planet International Blog and on his own blog, Fictions, are essential reading for anyone who loves comics. We asked him two questions and he responded with some comprehensive answers that actually worked better as one article/essay. Here it is:
I'm a 37-year-old comics fan brought up in Birmingham on a diet of Marvel UK, Herb Trimpe Hulk and weekly Spider-Man. But it all changed on a couple of fateful days; firstly finding a copy of Marvel Superheroes 388 and being introduced to Alan Moore and then there was the day I discovered Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham and realised that comics could have shops [devoted to them] as well.
Fast forward a few years and I become a 16 year old comic fan who blags a job sorting out the basement at Nostalgia & Comics.
The job, unbeknownst to me, is going to last 19 years.
Possibly the longest Saturday job in the world.
Certainly the most enjoyable. Nostalgia & Comics is a great comics shop and over the years I've made many, many friends there.
As I get older my tastes in comics change and I get more and more involved in the running of the shop. The manager, Dave Hopkins had an attitude that, as long as we didn’t screw anything up, we were able to do almost anything we wanted to promote the comics we loved. It's a perfect approach really and fostered a great friendship that lasts to this day. It also meant he didn't bat an eye on the days where I'd decide to spend hours completely redesigning the shelf layout, or do bizarre new window displays or a host of other things.
With one of these big changes I deliberately set aside an area of the shop just for the comics I wanted to promote. This led to contacts with the burgeoning UK scene of the time (Paul Grist's Kane, Gary Spencer Millidge's Strangehaven, Nabiel Kanan's Exit and much more was out at this time in the UK, whilst it was the time of Strangers In Paradise, Bone, Vertigo, Sandman, Preacher et al in the US - a great time for the medium).
In time, just putting the good stuff on a shelf and selling the hell out of them wasn't enough and I started compiling a monthly reviews newsletter for the shop. I called it Propaganda and made one area of the shop into the Propaganda shelves.
I reluctantly left Nostalgia & Comics in 2006 when we moved up here to Yorkshire. But Nostalgia & Comics wouldn't leave me and I really found myself missing my regular contact, not just with comics, but with the friendship, camaraderie and involvement of being in the shop. Over time I started blogging about my time at Nostalgia & Comics over at my Fictions blog. (Nostalgia & Comics & Me posts - all 20 of 'em)
Well, this came to the attention of Kenny Penman, one of the directors of Forbidden Planet International (owners of Nostalgia & Comics since 1997). He asked if I wanted to start doing Propaganda reviews online at the FPI blog. I think initially we agreed that maybe one a week would be about right. That was February 2007. It's now October 2008 (NB: Bugpowder apologises for any delay in posting interviews;o) and there are 149 Propaganda posts on the blog. It's been a great learning curve doing this, and although I can still look at some of my reviews and wince at the writing, there’s hopefully enough good writing to outweigh the bad.
As well as my reviews I'd like to think that everyone out there realises by now that Forbidden planet International is not some horrible comic retail chain. The passion of people at FPI is comics, pure and simple. Just have a look at the webstore, with its large UK Small Press section. Or the stuff Joe Gordon highlights on the blog. Joe is the main blogger at FPI and over the years has shown tremendous support to the UK scene. Then there's Kenny Penman and Jim Hamilton, two of FPI's directors. Both with an incredible passion for comics. So much so in fact that they're more than prepared to put their money where their mouths are and have recently formed Blank Slate books with the express intention of developing a comics publisher in the UK with more in common with Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and Top Shelf than with Marvel, DC or 2000AD. I'm continually surprised that FPI often gets a sniffy response in the UK comics scene and hopefully between the FPI blog, the Propaganda reviews, Blank Slate and the sterling work of countless passionate staffers we're changing that perception. (I would point out here that Blank Slate is completely separate from FPI. Kenny & Jim are investing an awful lot of their own money into it and it's not connected to FPI in any way.)
Propaganda at the FPI blog is all about comics. I'll review anything I've read. From cutting edge bizarre stuff to the latest Batman to children's comics to small press. I set no boundaries on what I'll read and consequently, no boundaries on what I will review.
One great thing about doing the reviews has been getting back into the UK small press comics scene after many years out. I last looked at UK small press in a major way many, many years ago when Pete Ashton used to run Bug Powder as a small press distributor and I had a load of his stock on my shelves. Since then, one thing and another has meant I've lost touch. But following the 2007 Birmingham Comics Show I picked up a few books and loved them. Then a few more. And more and more. Helping this refresher course in UK small press has been the relationship with the London Underground gang. Every once in a while Oliver Lambden sends me a huge bag of books to look through and possibly review.
The important thing for anyone reading this to realise is that there's no way I can possibly keep up with all of the great UK comics being made. And because of this I keep putting out the call for any UK small pressers to get in touch and send me their work. If I like the work I'll review it, if I don't like it, I won't. It seems to me there's no point writing a nasty review of something from the small press. After putting your time and effort into making comics, the last thing you need is a nasty, critical review. The other thing about the small press review that we do on the FPI blog is that I'm certainly not trying to blag loads of free comics. In the small press world I'm well aware that margins are ridiculously tight. So I'm only borrowing your books; I send them back to you when I'm done so you can make money off them and make more. Seems the fairest way to do things to me.
The only other thing I'll say is that I'm still a bit of a luddite regarding webcomics. I hate reading on screen and it's very rare I'll review a webcomic because of this.
Hopefully it makes a difference. Possibly the nicest moment of the whole gig so far came at 2008's Birmingham show when Sean Azzopardi came up to me and told me that he'd had a sale just that morning directly from the review of Twelve Hour Shift I'd posted on the FPI blog. That was lovely. I'm hopeful that more of the reviews I do will translate directly into more sales for the folks I'm reviewing.
Bloody Hell! Nice bloke. I wouldn’t send your books back if asked to review them. I’d hoard them, probably never get round to writing the review and then sell them on E Bay when you became the next Eddie Campbell…
Everyone should read Richard’s reviews. They should also read his highly entertaining posts about his time at Nostalgia & Comics.
And, as he said, if you have a comic that you’d like him to review, get in touch via his blog.
Cheers, Richard, for that overview of your involvement with the British comics scene so far.