Way back in the mists of time, before Margaret Thatcher came to power, before Sony released the Walkman, and before Alien was released in the cinema (fuck me, I’m *old*), I got together with a couple of Southend Art School buddies and we put together a comics fanzine, Amon*Spek.
It was just twenty single-sided pages in an A5 (roughly 8” x 6”) landscape format – with a fold-out cover! – produced on the coin-operated photocopier in the public library. It contained several comics by me, Graham Larwood and Stephen Campion, and it was our response to Heavy Metal magazine…well, that’s what we hoped it would become.
The fanzine ultimately ran for five issues (between 1979 and 1981) and was my initiation into the addictive world of self-publishing. A bug that’s never really left me. One of the guys I sold copies of Amon*Spek to down at the local pub was Graham Burnett, soon-to-be publisher of New Crimes, a Gestetner duplicated punk/anarchist music fanzine.
Fast-forward some forty years later, and out of the blue, Graham contacted me to ask if I would be interviewed for a book he was putting together, Southend on Zine. I’ll let Graham give you the pitch:
“Southend on Zine is both a history and a celebration of ‘alternative’ Southend, as told in their own words by those who were (and in many cases still are!) there; the self-publishers, counterculturalists, community organisers, activists, agitators, punks, sussed skins, young folk rebels, independent promoters, street artists, jester minstrels, anarchists, feminists, avant garde festival organisers, graphic novelists, indie entrepreneurs, poets, film makers, mental health activists, MCs, free-jazzers, allotmenteers, Essex Girl Liberationists, bioregional explorers, riot grrrls, psychedelic dream makers and all the other change agents who have in one way or another been involved with Southend’s ‘peoples press’, and have contributed to the story that makes this town buzzing, diverse, innovative, radical and amazing…”
After a couple of years in pre-production, it’s arrived and it’s an impressive tome. Over two hundred pages of interviews, artwork, zine covers and photographs culled from fifty years of Southend’s local counterculture.
Graham devotes a full eight pages to my interview, and here’s a quote from me talking about Amon*Spek:
“With the second issue, we found a local printer that would print fairly cheaply on a nonstandard size paper, so it was saddle-stitched. Steve Campion screen-printed the cover to my design. By this time I was getting contributions coming in via the mail. One guy, Paul Court, went on to form The Primitives, who did “Crash.” I recognised him when I saw him on Top of the Pops. The third issue was in the summer of 1980, which was litho printed. The cover was actually a woodcut done by somebody at college. Then the cover of number four was by Mark Cotgrove, aka [the musician] Snowboy, whose brother Paul now runs the White Bus Cinema.”
That short excerpt gives you an idea of how interconnected the arts community was back then, way before any kind of internet was generally available. In the mid 1980s I was running my comic shop Collectors’ Dream and photocopying fanzines for customers like a fifteen-year-old Warren Ellis, and The Dreammaker himself, Steve Pegrum (DJ at The Taste Experience events), who is also interviewed in the book.
Another interviewee, Steve Hexter produced the Alive & Kicking fanzine to which I contributed a column about comics; and there are also conversations with Famous Potato Keith Baxter and mystery novelist Syd Moore to name but a few.
In my interview I also talk about the Ethiopian benefit comic anthology I published, Food For Thought from 1985, forming a record (or rather, cassette) label, playing in local bands, and of course, ultimately, creating Strangehaven.
Southend on Zine is a fabulous little time capsule, packed with stories, anecdotes and some evocative visuals. You can buy the book direct from Graham here.
And there’s a short trailer for the project here: