Alan Woollcombe recently paid tribute to the late comics writer, editor and publisher Richard Ashford, a longtime stalwart of independent British comics who passed last month. He was first diagnosed with the rare condition, Huntington’s Disease, in 2006. Today, editor and writer Cefn Ridout, who worked with Richard at Acme Press, remembers his friend…
I first met Richard Ashford in late 1983 in Forbidden Planet in Denmark Street. We’d been corresponding and swapping copies of our respective fanzines – Speakeasy and The Australian Comic Collector – via mail for the past few years and I was in the UK visiting family and backpacking my way around the world – as is the Aussie way. We hit it off from the start, with Richard exhibiting all the traits that would makes us close friends: a sharp wit, exceptional generosity, a shared love of comics and film, an idiosyncratic streak… and inveterate tardiness. In fact, I was on verge of leaving FP after nearly an hour when Richard turned up at the door, apologising for being on UK time (as I was clearly still on Aussie time and far too early).
One thing led to another, and it wouldn’t be overstating the case to say that if we hadn’t met, I probably would not have stayed in the UK and certainly not found myself a part of the UK comics scene during one of its most exciting periods. The British invasion of the US was well underway, UKCAC, the UK Comic Art Convention, was going from strength to strength and Richard’s “baby”, Speakeasy, required more hands on deck, so I didn’t need my arm twisted to join the merry crew: Richard, Dick Hansom and Bambos Georgiou. We all pitched in on various aspects of production – writing, editing, designing, printing, mailing, networking, pubbing, etc. – skills that held us in good stead when we started up Acme Press in 1986 as a workers co-op, ironically thanks to Maggie Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance scheme for young start-ups.
This afforded us the opportunity to really spread our wings, publishing some of the cream of British talent: including Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell, John Watkiss, Ian Gibson, Rian Hughes, John M. Burns, Warren Pleece, and many others. We also dipped our toes into European waters, partnering with the likes of Eclipse Comics, Fantagraphics and Dark Horse, to produce translations of Kogaratsu, Lea: The Confessions of Julius Antoine, Rael: Into the Shadow of the Sun, and a variety of noirish adventure tales in Aces and Point Blank, and took on significant licenced properties such as James Bond and Steed and Mrs Peel.
Richard was also able to parlay his filmmaking and comics expertise into Acme Video, which, in cahoots with C.A. Productions, produced Comic Profiles, video profiles of Will Eisner, Watchmen, Alan Moore and 2000AD. And, yes, we sometimes bit off more than we could chew with Acme Comics Shop and Basement Gallery in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, but, hey, there were plenty of memorable times and events there as well.
During a concentrated period of activity from 1986-1990, Speakeasy, which had taken home a couple of Eagle Awards, also underwent a transformation into a professional magazine, with Richard as managing editor, until John Brown acquired it in late 1989. Fellow Acme Press director and long-time contributor Nigel (later Natasha) Curson took over the editorial reins, which were then handed to Stuart Green.
By 1991, Richard had moved to New York with his wife, Carol, eventually settling into a Woody Allen-esque ground floor apartment on the upper West Side, where they raised two boys, Grant and Geoffrey, and miraculously converted a one bedroom flat into three bedrooms – ask the boys – and a purpose-built floor to ceiling bookshelf that held a fraction of his comics, films and music collections. I visited as often as I could after moving back to Oz for a period.
While in Manhattan Richard landed himself an editorial position with Marvel Comics on a number of books, including The Avengers, Marvel Comics Presents and, probably his favourite assignment, Conan the Barbarian. I had the great fortune of working with Charlie Adlard (pre-The Walking Dead) on a few titles that were edited by Richard, and through his auspices met personal comics heroes John Romita and John Buscema, whom Richard and I interviewed for two art of books. The Romita book was published but the Buscema one languishes somewhere within Marvel’s vaults.
A dear friend for many decades I have very fond memories of the times Richard and I spent together and will miss him enormously. My thoughts and deepest sympathies go to his extraordinary wife, Carol, and their boys Grant and Geoffrey.
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.