From The Red Carpet At The Fab Cafe...
I’ve always said it’s great to be a geek, and it’s never been truer than the past few days.
Thursday June 2, 2011 was kind of a once in a lifetime event for me. I’d received an invitation to be a guest at the launch party of Starburst with Maria joining me. We had actually launched the first online issue a couple of weeks earlier - but this was the official launch.
Starburst isn’t the first magazine I’ve worked on, but it is by far the biggest. It has a 34 year history, it’s a well respected brand in the industry and it has a huge fan base. All those factors culminated in a feeling not exactly of nervousness as the day approached - but I was feeling a degree of trepidation and the butterflies were definitely in my stomach.
Essentially, I was making the transition from lifelong reader and fan to being on the "inside" as a writer and fully fledged member of the team. I’d be meeting my peers among the writers and some of the veteran writers who’d been working for the magazine back in the eighties and nineties. How would I measure up against these people I considered icons of pop culture journalism? Yes, I have a resume of published material and I’ve learned some lessons along the way... But this was Starburst - the biggest and the best of the big and the best.
Oddly, the first thought that hit me that morning, looking in the bathroom mirror was wondering if I’d made a mistake in shaving off my beard the previous weekend when I’d had my hair trimmed for an upcoming wedding. Did I look more like a professional geek with it? I have no idea how my mind works at times.
T-shirt selection is also comically critical. As ever, I went with one of several KISS shirts. KISS are kind of a comfort blanket to me when entering new territory. I call it Geek Chic.
And so, after several wardrobe changes from Maria (who is always more concerned with her appearance than I am) we were ready to take off for Manchester, having built in some time for a little bit of distracting shopping before our date with destiny at the Fab Cafe.
Typically, it was misty and raining at the homestead, but Manchester was basically scorching. Having spent some time in our favourite Starbucks in Deansgate, it was time for retail therapy. Oddly - no DVD purchases, the complete series box set of The Incredible Hulk I was looking for was looking for was out of stock everywhere, but comfortingly, Forbidden Planet had a couple of Green Lantern graphic novels that I was hoping to lay my hands on. Mrs P was similarly satisfied with some more clothes purchases.
After a leisurely dinner, it was time. By this point, my feelings of self doubt had settled down and I’d found that moment of calm I like to find just before I’m about to venture into the unknown, be it interview someone, attend an interview myself or speak in front of a crowd.
Giving our names at the door and having my name ticked off the guest list, I had a band put on my wrist. It’s funny, someone put an adhesive band on my arm, with all the leather wrist straps I wear - and I never thought to ask why.
Walking in to the Fab Cafe on Portland Street for the first time is an experience. As your eyes adjust from the bright sunny glare outside, I found myself in what can best be described as a Hard Rock Cafe for geeks. Movie posters, signed photos, old games consoles on display under glass, a full sized black Dalek, a TARDIS in the corner, a full size Cyberman in another, an Alien model, a Terminator head - and hanging from the ceiling Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 4 (I didn’t see 3 or 5) - and best of all, the DJ station, which was a reproduction of the helm and navigator’s station from the U.S.S. Enterprise. There could be no better setting possible for the evening.
We were introduced to several of the writers already in attendance, and that awkward moment when strangers try to break the ice with each other really didn’t exist. Names were given, hands were shaken and conversation was free flowing.
We discovered the wrist bands we were wearing allowed us access to a V.I.P. area which had been cordoned off and guarded by a huge bouncer. In that area was a constant supply of free champagne, wine and beer. Mrs P didn’t need to be told twice and settled herself down right next to the champagne.
Introductions continued at a rate that I could barely keep up with, as editor Mike Royce made sure everybody got to know everybody else as the impeccable host he was (also owner of the venue).
Meeting Paul Mount, a writer whose work I’d enjoyed several years ago during his first ten year stint with Starburst was a particular pleasure and I’m happy to say that we became friends very quickly, being of a similar age and background and tastes in entertainment. (Not to mention the whole "both of us being Welsh" thing.) I really was among my own kind and was well within my comfort zone as a bunch of professional geeks discussed TV shows, movies, cartoons, comics and all the things we hold dear. It had the feeling of a family get together.
We couldn’t help but notice the entrance of Darth Vader as he swept majestically into the room flanked by 2 Stormtroopers. (I would’ve loved to have been outside seconds before just to see Vader & Co either walking down the street or stepping off a bus or taxi). All writers had official photos taken with them... And yes, most of us, including me, were photographed kneeling down in a "prisoner of war" pose with our hands on our heads while the Stormtroopers aimed their blasters at our heads with Vader looming menacingly. I haven’t seen them yet, but those shots are BOUND to hit the web soon enough.
Next up, as I was chatting by the bar, I was approached for an interview to be broadcast as part of the Starburst Show on Radio Manchester. We did, I think about a five minute interview covering what I did for the magazine, where I’d written before (naming no names) and how I approach my articles.
Y’know for a guy living in the back end of nowhere all this was a little bit surreal. I think the interview goes out in the show being broadcast on June 5, but will be available as a podcast on www.starburstmagazine.com.
Later on in the evening, I was apparently standing at the bar, right next to "Tracey Barlow". I was oblivious to this. (For those of you who don’t know - she’s a fictional character on a popular UK soap called Coronation Street. I’m not a soap fan and it’s literally decades since I last saw en episode of the show, hence my blank look when I was told. To confuse things even more, there have been 2 actresses who have played the role, according to Maria and this was the original one. All I remember is that she was a brunette.)
Out of the ordinary so far? To be sure. More was to come, though.
Dez Skinn is a name I’ve known since my youth. When I was 16, I bought the third issue of a magazine I discovered named "House of Hammer". It was a horror movie magazine with news, vies and reviews and a comic strip adaptation of a Hammer horror movie in each issue. It was a Dez Skinn magazine. About 18 months later, Dez would catch even more lightning in a bottle by creating Starburst. He was also responsible for bringing several of the Marvel Comics reprints to our culture starved shores. He created the long running Dr Who magazine which holds the Guinness World Record for longest running magazine based on a TV character. Dez has, justifiably been called "the British Stan Lee".
And there he was, standing in front of me, shaking my hand.
Dez Skinn is back with Starburst as our honorary publisher and I had the opportunity to meet, chat and hang out with this real icon of the UK magazine industry. He told stories of the struggle to get the first issue of the magazine in print back in 1978. He had a first issue with him and it was a pleasure to be with him as he leafed through it telling how various articles and comic strips came to fruition. We talked about writing styles and he said he liked mine. My articles, he told me, work because they have a beginning, a middle and an end - I’m telling a story and that’s how it should be. A lot of writers don’t "get" that. No greater compliment could be given from no higher an authority and an entire lifestyle was validated right there, right then.
Like I said, it was a surreal night, spent living my fondest geek dream with an extraordinary bunch of people who made us very welcome. The online magazine is going from strength to strength and we’re averaging eight thousand hits per day, every day. To have earned a spot at the top table with this brand is an achievement I’m personally very proud of.
My thanks to Mike Royce, Dez Skinn and all the writers and readers I met that night.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.