Welcome to the first “Web-Stir”. I have been asked a number of times to write something for followers of Wow Comix and to give some background on what it is like to run what is slowly developing into a multimedia retail and entertainment business. I have resisted the idea as even my ego is not that big, but after continued prompting from the other guys at Wow, here we are.
I have often been asked how I got into the comics business in the first place. I guess for the answer we have to go back to about 1965 or 66 and a man called Ernie Nicholson. I lived at a place called the Elephant and Castle in London. Ernie was one of our neighbours and he worked at the print where they used to produce most of the weekly British comics of the day.
I don’t know if the printers were given the comics or if they just nicked them, which was a very popular pastime where I grew up (especially round the old London docks) but every week Ernie would come home with a big stack of all the titles out that week. Ernie’s kids had grown up and were not interested in comics so he used to give them to me and my sister. We had all that week’s comics and what is more we had them several days before they hit the shops I loved them and spent hours reading and re-reading them. Beazer, Topper, Sparky and so on. My sister had the girls’ comics like Bunty and I had the boys’ ones like Valiant, TV21, Smash and Pow.
Then in 1967 my life changed forever when Terrific and Fantastic came out. They introduced me to the world of Marvel Superheroes. I was mega excited, particularly with Terrific number 1 which came with a free gift of an iron on Iron-Man transfer. My Mum ironed it on to a white t-shirt for me and I proudly wore it all summer.
About this time the Adam West Batman TV show hit our televisions and I became a massive Batman fan. Still am in fact. I soon discovered that the British superhero comics were not original and were just reprinting American comic books. We called them comics but they called them comic books. They were smaller than ours, they were in colour and they were just so much more exciting. They began to appear in our local newsagents and I could not get enough of them. Marvel in particular was just great fun. I got to know not just the characters but also the people who wrote and drew the comics. Everyone had a nickname, Stan (The Man) Lee, Jack (The King) Kirby, Jazzy Johnny Romita and so on. It was like they were our friends and I thought they all lived and worked together at the Bullpen in New York, New York, USA.
Original Marvel and DC comics were now at the local newsagent but they were hard to collect as distribution was so haphazard. In a way though it became part of the fun because I would spend hours each weekend going round the local newsagents trying to find the ones I was missing. I also discovered several second-hand book shops where I could buy or swap comics.
I remember one at the top of East Lane, near the Walworth Road where I spent many happy hours working my way through piles of comics. The same with the Popular Book Centre down the Old Kent Road. Always gives me a shiver now when I come across a Silver Age comic with the Popular Book Centre stamp in the middle of the front cover. Nowadays everyone wants their comic to be pristine but it never
bothered me. I did not mind the shop stamping the cover or the old T&P stamp on it (Thorpe and Porter who used to import the American comics). I just wanted to read it and if it was a series I was collecting then I would get what I could until a better copy came along.
Come my mid-teens the addiction to comics became a bit more secret. Collecting comics was hardly cool and left one open to significant ridicule. I also discovered girls and beer which pushed comics right off the agenda. I sold my first collection of comics to pay for a pair of 3-inch stacked heel leather and snake skin shoes. Now they were cool (Don’t judge me, it was the 1970s).
Years went by but my interest never totally faded. I dipped in and out. Bought a collection, sold a collection, bought another collection and so on. Always kept my core favourites though. Adams Batman, Kirby New Gods, Wrightson Swamp Thing, John Byrne X-Men. Then got right back in with the British Comics of the early 80s like Warrior and The Daredevils (still my favourite).
During this time something amazing happened. Comics changed and so did the people who bought them. As we moved in to the new century comics suddenly became cool. People who previously would not have been seen dead in an Iron-Man T-shirt now wore them loud and proud. Now this clearly had a lot more to do with films and TV shows than the comics themselves, but it did have a
knock-on effect. People knew the characters and wanted to see where they had originated from.
Yes John, this is all very interesting but what has it got to do with how you got into the comic business I hear you ask. Well, I am coming to that. After school and almost by accident I ended up working in a firm of Solicitors. I was just the office junior but after a short while a chance came up to go out to Court and sit behind Counsel. I got to see how the Law works and I watched the Lawyers.
I began to think these people are much better educated than me but they are no smarter than me. I thought, I could do that job and so I did.
Night school, Law school, and lots of hard work later there I was as a Solicitor. I worked in various Law firms and did lots of different types of work, mainly to do with ships and aeroplanes. I worked for years in the City of London and in the 1990s moved up to Manchester. I had spells in Newcastle and Birmingham. I was also lucky that my work took me all over the world on different cases.
Eventually, I set up my own firm called Webster O’Brien Solicitors with my colleagues Peta O’Brien and Wayne Thompson. Not bad for a boy from a south London Council estate.
A few years ago, I retired from the law but I still had a brain and I needed something to occupy it. You know what they say? Use it or lose it. I decided to try something different and as I had always had a keen interest in comics it seemed like a no-brainer to do something in that area. Also around
this time we decided to downsize. The kids had grown up and gone and the house was too big. My wife suggested that if we were downsizing the time had come to get rid of the thousands of books, records and comics I had stored away. After I stopped crying, I realised she was right and everything
had to go. I thought right, if I am going to do that I will turn it into a business and sell it all.
I started selling on eBay and things went well. I realised there was still a market out there for this stuff. I got chatting to Wayne and Peta about it and they both had things to bring to the party so we combined our collections. I had started selling under the name of back catalogue comics but neither
of them thought that was a particularly inspiring name. We still had several companies under the Webster O’Brien name and decided to use them for this new venture. Wayne came up with Wow Comics, which stood for Webster, O’Brien and Wayne. (WOW). We then decided to make it a little
different and changed the comics to comix. We changed the company names and were then off and running.
A year or so goes by. Selling has gone well, so much so that we had started buying stuff in as we were running low on stock. We moved on from just selling on eBay to attending conventions and comic fairs. Within a year we have opened our first shop. A few more years go by. More shops, a much wider range of products. New and vintage comics, books, T-shirts, posters, mugs, toys, games
and so on.
New companies and partnerships are formed. Diversification happens. We move into putting on our own conventions and events. We go on line. We start to develop new areas such as publishing. People leave, people join but throughout I am still here in the middle of it. Still enjoying what was a hobby that got out of hand ………………. and that dear reader is how I got into the comic business!!
Written by John Webster