The British comics community was stunned by the news of the passing of award-winning comic creator Terry Wiley, a key figure of the independent scene for decades, after a long battle with cancer. He was 56.
Here, Jay Eales, Selina Lock and others pay tribute to this singular talent…
On the Toon with Terry Wiley
A Tribute by Jay Eales (with contributions from Selina Lock and various)
What can I say about Terry Wiley? How long have you got? In the days since the news of his passing broke, Facebook and Twitter timelines have been filled with shocked and sad readers and fellow creators expressing their love of the man. A stalwart of the British small press and independent comics scene through the eighties, nineties and noughties, my first sighting of the lesser spotted Wiley in his natural habitat (the comic convention hall) would have been in 1992, at the London based UK Comic Art Convention. Terry and his joined-at-the-hip co-conspirator, writer Dave McKinnon were selling their wares, More Tales from Sleaze Castle. It was a pilgrimage that I’d make each year until UKCAC finished, and I’m bound to have muddled the years up, but that’s unimportant. Other tributes to Terry will cover the timeline better than I. I’d like to give a personal flavour of the man; why he was such excellent company; the moments I’ll always remember.
But first, it’s only right that we should hear from Terry’s friend and long-time writer collaborator on Sleaze Castle, Dave McKinnon. One of the things that helped Terry and Dave McKinnon to build an audience outside of the local Newcastle scene was their early involvement with the renowned comic shop Page 45, predating that shop’s existence even, and their participation in the first Independents Day, a celebration of indie comics.
Asked to recount it, Dave remembers: “Through Mark and Stephen at Page 45, we managed to piggyback onto a UK tour they’d arranged for the CEREBUS team of Dave Sim and Gerhard – each stop had guest local creators, and we got the Newcastle gig.”
“There we were: Dave Sim, Ger, with me and Terry right next to them – seemingly sketching, signing and selling as many books as they were!! I mostly recall, however, being horribly nervous and babbling babbling babbling non-stop. God knows what they must have thought of me.
“Terry, of course, just quietly got on with doing great drawings. Needless to say, alcohol was consumed (but not by Terry).”
Read Dave’s full account of Independents Day – 1 and 2 and the Cerebus Spirits of Independence tour.
Terry’s personality and love of words was present even in his early years, as his sister Mary Graham recalls: “He was so cute and lovable with his lovely ginger hair and as bright as a button. He could read as well as a ten-year-old when he was three. We used to take him to town on the bus and he used to talk to everybody asking them how they were and where were they going and why and what for? He was so comical.”
His occasionally grumpy side was there too, as Mary also recalls: “At school he used to stand up in class and shout at everyone to shut up so he could listen to what the teacher was saying!”
Fast forward to 2000, and my own co-conspirator in life and in comics, Selina and I ventured to Oxford to visit Caption for the first time, and that was when we really started to get to know Terry, and became part of the scene, rather than just watching from the sidelines. When we came to put together our first publication – The Girly Comic #1, we received support from many, but one of the first was Terry, who generously supplied a brand-new strip featuring his Surreal School Stories cast, which had previously only appeared in illustrated prose collections. Throughout the process, Terry was an absolute godsend teaching us the arcane ways of Photoshop, and magic spells like CMYK.
One oft-repeated legend, which having come to write this, I find I’d been misreporting for years was how at University, Terry and Dave were expelled from the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) for sedition. For the truth behind the legend, over to Steve Heeney…
“We [Steve, Terry, Adrian Kermode & Joe Reale] all joined WANT – Who Appreciation Society North Tyneside. We watched specially imported videos from the US. And then a moment of infamy. Joe and I had put together a society magazine. Terry came up with the name Smaels of Loon (pronounced Smales). Whilst Joe and I created most of the content (my thesaurus didn’t understand ‘shite’), Terry and Ada came up with more pieces – Terry’s amazing artwork, Ada wrote some short stories and we once printed an extract from Amoeba’s Playtime… Raving Dave McKinnon even wrote the horoscopes and ‘Cabbalists Corner’. Lee and I were off one weekend and left Terry and Ada in charge. We came back to find that Terry and Ada had been banned for life and the magazine was on the FBI wanted list along with ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Terry and Ada had an editorial scurrilously branding WANT as bankrupt…”
By 2006, Selina and I hadn’t missed a Caption convention, and when the committee stepped down en masse, took little persuading to volunteer to run the next event. Terry was always up for a bit of art here, a cover there, and one year (2009) he designed the Caption t-shirt.
Caption, for those who don’t know, was (and I believe still holds the title) the longest running British comic convention, running from 1992 to 2015 (skipping 2014). Held annually in Oxford, it grew up in a time when one comic convention a year was the standard. Not like these days, with several most weekends. Ee, you young ‘uns don’t know you’re born…
Caption was predominantly a small press comic convention, with the majority of attendees being creators as well as readers of the form. It was a great opportunity once a year for people to grab hold of small press comics, boutique enough for food to be provided in the form of a mass order to the local pizzeria and included a spread of tables with great big sketchpads for people to sit and have a doodle while talking comics with likeminded people.
Every year there was a charity auction, including work by celebrity guest creators, who were often surprised to see their work (which usually commanded large sums) going for substantially less than Terry’s pieces, due to the bidding war between regular attendees bumping the price up.
Fellow independent comics creator, Paul Rainey, also talked about Terry’s inimitable presence at Caption: “I remember him sitting in the bar area, drawing amazing images on cheap paper using communal markers and fading felt-tip pens and then sharing them around his peers for us to add to, enlarge upon or, in my case, mutilate. I used to be shy about drawing in front of other people, but Terry had such a joyful aura about him that he attracted malcontents like me and made us feel that he didn’t see a distinction between what he and the rest of us were drawing.”
Terry was so incredibly humble about his talent, he never wanted the limelight, and seemed content to be the power behind the throne (not in a Grima Wormtongue manner). He was never on the committee of Caption, but behind the curtain, he was always nudging to make sure it ran like clockwork. He would go on to do the same thing with the Midwinter Comics Retreats.
Another friend we met at Caption was Debra Boyask, who instigated the Midwinter Comics Retreat, based on events form her native New Zealand. We’d rent a small cottage and go away for a weekend, have great food, a few drinkies with good company and make some comics. Terry and ourselves were regular attendees. On the Friday nights, while socialising, I would keep a notebook open and we’d discuss what sort of comic we wanted to make, and anything that sounded like a good idea went in the book. Quite a few things that sounded awful also went in the book, along with all manner of surreal comments or adlibs.
That might explain how we came up with story elements like the Green Cross Code Man driving around in an Imperial Star Destroyer made of brie cheese, and having it stolen by a pack of chav squirrels.
We decided to make the protagonists of the comic ourselves, as it was easier for the artists. Across the Saturday, I would scribble out script while artists bellowed “MOAR PAGES!” at me. Sometimes they would even draw what I’d written!
To this day, I’m gobstruck by Terry’s output at the retreats, where we got to see the magic happen. The quality of the pages and he outpaced most other artists three pages to one. Terry didn’t often drink, but one occasion at around two in the morning, when he and I were last men standing, and attacked a bottle of rum, he remarked upon an interesting discovery he’d just made: “I draw exactly as well drunk as when I’m sober.” Naturally, we toasted this revelation.
A selection of the MCR comics are available for free download, but fair warning – they don’t make a lick of sense.
Terry was also an important part of other communities outside comics. In particular, the online gaming community that grew up around the game SiSSYFiGHT, described as: “an intense war between a bunch of girls who are all out to ruin each other’s popularity and self-esteem.“
He met his beloved fiancée Cindi through the game, and they were involved in the campaign to revive it in 2013, providing a memorial wall and new in-game accessory graphics. Terry began to divide his time between the UK and Chicago, spending a few months with Cindi and back in Newcastle. His itinerary was built around being in the UK for Caption, Thought Bubble and Midwinter Comics Retreats wherever possible, and then hotfooting it to the airport. And likewise, we would schedule our visits to stay with him around when he’d be in-country.
Back in his Newcastle home, Terry became part of another group of comics folk, called The Paper Jam Collective, who initially met monthly in the basement of Travelling Man to socialise and make comics. Every few months, they would pull together to make a themed anthology comic, and Terry appeared in all of them.
Terry became an important part of the Paper Jam Collective, reflected in what Alexi Conman told us that “the quality of his work and commitment to comics were an inspiration to pretty much anyone who attended the group. He always participated enthusiastically for the collective. A class act.”
In Alexi’s own tribute to Terry he says “That’s how I’ll remember Terry – affably able to do pretty much anything in the sequential art medium, because he was just that good at Doing Comics.”
These sentiments were echoed by Matthew Beakes on Twitter: “He was very supportive to me when I rocked up to the Paper Jam meet-ups in 2011 and was getting started with doing my own comics. “plan 20 pages – then just draw the bloody comic”. Which was invaluable for me to just rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it.”
Also, by fellow Paper Jam member Jack Fallows in his piece on Terry’s passing.
In recent years, Terry worked with Lydia Wysocki and Applied Comics Etc (ACE) on a number of educational projects. Some of his original art is currently on display at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead as part of the ‘Idea of North’ exhibition.
Terry’s last major work was VerityFair, which he graciously allowed us to serialise the early instalments of in The Girly Comic before publishing full issues through his own IDCM (I Do Comics Me) imprint.
Intimately connected to Sleaze Castle, Terry adopted a new approach to his style, using drawn characters and manipulated photograph backgrounds. After Caption one year, Terry asked us to detour on the way back so he could take some photo reference, swearing us to secrecy regarding the location until the final issues of VerityFair were published, as it would constitute a major spoiler for long-time readers of the saga.
When Phil Hall started Borderline Press he was determined to publish the collected edition of VerityFair, and remembers Terry sticking with him through the difficult process of bringing the book to print.
“[He was] unreservedly easy-going and benevolent when I was growing increasingly frustrated with the delays… [from the Chinese printers] he had been tweaking stuff, talking with me, being available when I needed him, despite flitting back and forth across the Atlantic to spend time with his fiancée in Illinois. In a world with very few consummate professionals, Terry was exactly that.”
Phil Hall and Stephen Robson at Fanfare, who took over distribution of Borderline Press titles after the publisher ceased trading, have in the days following Terry’s passing decided to donate 100% of the profits from sales of VerityFair to a charity of Cindi’s choice in Terry’s memory.
A few last memories that make us smile: The advent of Game of Thrones led us to start describing our visits to Terry as ‘travelling North of the Wall’ and calling him the Ginger King o’ the Naaarth; The look of cod-betrayal upon Terry’s face after we bought him a freshly barbecued mackerel wrap from a stall on Tynemouth beach instead of our traditional “fishy chip” lunch;
His fulsome approval at a budget supermarket pizza we cooked for him. He wanted to know the secret of how we made it taste so good. It was simple enough. We followed the cooking directions and used the gas oven. Terry habitually used the microwave for everything.
The way he pronounced Patrick Troughton’s surname as TRORTON despite all evidence to the contrary (perhaps that’s the real reason he was expelled from the Doctor Who society); The knitted pink and cream striped doily that for many years he took everywhere he went and took photos of in far-flung places;
His ability to quote huge swathes of The Goons, Mighty Boosh, Vivian Stanshall or Ivor Cutler at the drop of a hat; Bumping into him first thing on the Sunday morning of a Thought Bubble and finding him exasperated. We asked what was up, and he explained that he had managed to use up his entire data allowance on his phone for the rest of the month watching live kitten cams.
Oh yes, Terry had an addiction to kittens. “They’re just so damn cute,” he wailed.
My very favourite Terry story took place in 2010, when Selina and I had invited Melinda Gebbie to be a guest at Caption. Melinda’s travel arrangements to and from Oxford were sketchy to say the least. She had accompanied her hubby Alan Moore to an Unearthing event in London the night before, and the taxi dropped her off at the East Oxford Community Centre venue for Caption early on Saturday morning. Alan ran in carrying her bags and called out “Get this woman a coffee” and while Caption attendees stood open-mouthed to see Alan at a comic convention, however briefly, he ran out again. Melinda spent the weekend as an ideal guest, telling all kinds of scurrilous stories from her career, attending every panel and asking questions. On Sunday morning, she even brought mini muffins for everyone. As Caption came to an end, we asked if she had her travel home sorted, and she hadn’t. We figured it wouldn’t be too much of an imposition to go home via Northampton; I’m Northamptonshire born, so it’s always nice to visit the old stomping grounds. So, that was how we and Terry (who was coming back with us) got invited in for tea and chocolates with Alan Moore…
We were proud as punch to hear Melinda regaling Alan about it being the best convention she’d been to, and as Selina remembers it, Terry and I sat on the sofa giggling like schoolboys as Alan offered to show us the latest pages of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, hot off the fax from Kev O’Neill.
Afterwards, Terry kept nudging me and saying “D’you remember that time we had tea at Alan Moore’s house?” The first time he said it, we were still standing on the doorstep.
We are all poorer for the loss of Terry Wiley. But those of us who knew him, crossed his path, and those who will discover his comics in the years to come are richer for his having been here.
Good-night Mister Terry.
• For friends, family, colleagues, fans, Terry Wiley’s send-off has been arranged for Tuesday 25th September at 1.30pm, at Tynemouth Crematorium
• Phil Hall published Terry’s book Verityfair in 2014 under his Borderline Press label and Stephen Robson later inherited the distribution. As a tribute to Terry, Stephen has put his title up on Fanfare – and will donate the whole of the book’s UK retail to a charity of his fiancee Cindi’s choosing once she has said goodbye to Terry
With thanks to Pete Ashton and Jenni Scott for additional photographs