Back in the 1980s, before the dawn of the internet, the British comics community celebrated the form in print. It was a vibrant scene, encompassing not only zines about comics such as Arkensword, Fantasy Advertiser and Speakeasy but fiction-based titles too. Many creators like Phil Elliott, Paul Gravett, Warren Ellis, Smuzz (then known as SMS), Davey Jones (now best known for his work on VIZ), Russell Willis (now a publisher based in Japan), and others, including me, cut their teeth in the comics by either publishing their own small press titles, or contributing to them.
One focus for selling these zines was the Fast Fiction stand at the London Westminster Comic Marts at Central Hall, where we young upstarts would rub shoulders with the artists and writers who’d already been published in mainstream comics. At the first Mart I went to, for example, to sell my own photocopied satirical zine SCAN, co-edited with future FHM designer Matthew Bingham, Marvel UK was hosting a signing whose line up included Marvel Superheroes editor John Tomlinson and Alan Moore.
One of the publishers who regularly haunted the Marts with us was Gary Spencer Millidge, now better known, of course, as both an author and the creator of the long-running project Strangehaven, most recently seen in the anthology title Meanwhile from Soaring Penguin Press. Alongside his now sadly near-forgotten news zine Comic News Monthly, in 1985 he published the one shot charity comic Food for Thought – in aid of famine relief in Ethiopia.
The comics equivalent of the 1984 Band-Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, recorded to aid the famine victims, Food for Thought was a charity comic released in April 1985 that pre-dated Red Nose Day charity Comic Relief’s own one-off foray into comics by several years. Gary worked with Warren Ellis, Matt Ginn, and Dave Whitwell on this one shot title.
It includes covers by Alan Davis and Ian Gibson and contributions from Jim Baikie, Hunt Emerson, Warren Ellis, Dave Gibbons, D’Israeli, Grant Morrison, Kevin O’Neill, Ed Pinsent, David Pugh, Ron Smith and Lew Stringer, Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot, and others.
Food for Thought was one of the high points of the creative energy and comics camaraderie that sprang from the Westminster Marts and gatherings in the nearby pub, the Westminster Arms, now the regular haunt of a far more well-heeled customer base.
“I believe Food for Thought had a print run of 500,” Gary recalls. “Most sold through Titan UK (we did not get US distribution), and my own comic shop/mail order business.”
In addition to regular copies, there was also a signed special edition, limited to just 11 copies. This limited edition has gold text, written on the bag it came in, and there are creator signatures on each page. (Each edition may be different).
“It’s just a regular plastic bag with a handwritten legend (by me) in gold metallic pen,” Gary says. “Most of the contributors signed the edition, some of which signed small stickers which were attached to the appropriate pages.
“Food for Thought was sold at the Westminster comic mart (for £10 a pop I think). I seem to remember some of the other editors took a table for one day, and/or maybe it was sold on the Fast Fiction table. Both the regular and signed editions did sell out very quickly.”
Given its low print run, and that Food for Thought also features some of Warren Ellis’ earliest work, 2000AD-inspired strips and art, and a short tale by Alan Moore, has meant it has become a something of a collectors item and, as noted over on Deep Space Transmission, where Grant Morrison’s strip features, commands a premium sum on the rare occasion a copy comes up for sale.
Ironically, today you’ll find it listed on charity web sites for staggering prices, including Oxfam’s, where it’s listed for £50. A “Limited Edition” sold for £500 to an American Alan Moore fan, and “normal” copies can sell for £100. (A copy sold for nearly £150 in 2018 on eBay, for example).
I’ve seen signed copies listed for thousands, too. You may want to see if you have a copy lurking in your attic…
(As an aside, Food for Thought was one of the comics printed by Vincent Press, run by American entrepreneur John Vincent, who had begun running his own print business in Lancaster after several years working for Kall-Kwik in Morecambe, where I worked as a designer. We’d begun discussing working together to develop print services for comic publishers, building on the contacts I’d already developed through the Westminster Marts. John had some discussions with Bryan Talbot, then living in Preston, about re-printing some of his work, but I don’t recall accurately how far they had progressed. Sadly, John died in a tragic motorcycle accident, while I was visiting his works, and his wonderful plans were abruptly, tragically curtailed).
With thanks to Richard Sheaf
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.