by Kevin McCluskey
Now that I have hurtled past 40, I feel I can no longer deny my middle-aged status or the passing of my youth. As a stark reminder of this, a significant part of my childhood and adolescence recently shuffled off this mortal coil. On the 30th of June 2017 at 17:30, after nearly three decades of trading, due to the retirement of proprietor, George Cordeiro, The Black Hole comic book shop in Dundee closed its doors for the final time.
If memory serves me correct, I was eleven years old when I first stumbled upon the Black Hole which, at the time, was located in Dundee’s long since defunct In Shops market at the back of the Wellgate shopping centre. After a year or so of traipsing for miles, scouring newsagents all over the city, searching for comic books from across the Atlantic, the discovery of a shop that specialised in American comics was like a gift from the four colour gods. Plus, this direct market alternative received the issues ahead of the local paper shops. My days of purchasing comic books from a newsagent were over. For me, as a comic book reader and collector, they died in that instant, the Black Hole was the future. Only a few of years into my frequenting the shop at its location in the market, the Black Hole was forced into something of an upgrade, taking up what was to become its final home in a much larger, self-contained unit at the rear of the Wellgate. The reason for this move was the renovation of the In Shops market into a single retail space and it would seem that it is no coincidence that, at the time of writing and not for the first time, it now lies vacant. Unfortunately this is currently the case for many of the retail units within the Wellgate, an indication of Dundee’s seeming inability to sustain two healthy shopping centres simultaneously.
For as long as I can remember, George Cordeiro has been the owner of the establishment and as a result, a recognisable face in Dundee’s comic scene. No matter what time you walked into the shop George was there, sitting behind his small counter, dependable. In those early days, when I had to visit the shop on a Saturday due to school, he could always be found listening to whatever football match was being broadcast live on the radio. Latterly, when I would pick up my comics on my lunch break from work on a Wednesday, it would be talk sport. He was always willing to order issues or reserve copies of new releases for you and more than happy to chat comics, movies and music. It did, however, take him somewhere in the region of a decade to start talking to me in this manner, like a genuine customer and not just a mild inconvenience. This may have had something to do with the fact that I probably was nothing more than an irritant to him in my younger days.
I remember the overwhelming nature of the sheer choice of comics on offer in The Black Hole compared to those aforementioned newsagents and being told several times to leave if I wasn’t buying anything. Granted, I did spend hours trying to decide what few comics to buy with what little money I had and it may very well have appeared to George that I was using his shop as a library. I also confess that on at least one occasion, when I took one of my hiatuses from collecting and to my eternal shame, I left him with a stack of comics that I didn't pay for from my standing order. He was good enough to allow me to set-up other pull-lists in the future. Not just a good man, but a good business man too. You don’t get to stay afloat in comics retail for the best part of 30 years if you aren’t. You don’t get to stay in business in Dundee for anywhere near that length of time if you aren’t. You only need to look at the number of empty units in and at the rear the Wellgate Centre for evidence of this.
However, George isn’t just a comic book retailer, he's also a creator of comics. The most recent of which is the series 'Far Out' he produced with his old friend, Frang. He’s also worked for the heavy hitters, having written the Dark Knight himself for DC in 1991 when he lent a helping hand to his longtime acquaintance Alan Grant for Detective Comics issues 610 and 611. Considering this particular assignment was sandwiched between the “Batmania” of the 1989 Tim Burton movie and its sequel in 1992, where everyone and their grandmother wanted to write 'The Bat' for the big pay day, this is no small accomplishment. He also wrote the 'Doomlord' story in the'Eagle' annual of that same year. His writing credits don't begin and end with comics, in fact, he has written poetry, which has seen him published in a series of anthologies, short stories, including one published in ‘New Fiction’ magazine and he has also produced work for the stage, such the biographical drama ‘Fanny Wright,’ for which he has a co-writing credit. He has even been known to tread the boards himself in his time. Clearly he is a man of many talents.
Thankfully George’s retirement and the subsequent closure of The Black Hole does not mean the city that is arguably the spiritual home of comics in the UK will be without a specialist comics shop. Around a year prior to The Black Hole closing, the ‘City of Discovery’ saw the arrival of a new player on the its comics retail scene, becoming almost a next door neighbour, and although there is no correlation between the opening of one shop and the closing of another, there is an element of a passing of the torch between The Black Hole and Ahoy Comics!
In many ways, The Black Hole was a link to the past of comic book retailing. It was one of the last in the old tradition, with it's inclusion of other, older formats that spoke to the collectors mentality of many of us comics fans of a certain age, including magazines, cassette tapes and the recently resurgent vinyl. It heavily featured a link between music and comics that seems less prominent in 2017 than it did when The Black Hole opened in the previous century, the previous millenium, in fact. It even stated above the door, “Comics and music exchange.” Who would combine those two markets in 2017? The crate digging drive where you had to work your way through box upon box of items, in which you had absolutely no interest, all in the hope that you would find even just one gem to make the time spent worthwhile, seems inefficient in the 21st century. This is an issue (no pun intended) with back issue comics buying. The brick and mortar market for this element of comic book collecting has all but become extinct. It has been superseded by faster, more convenient online alternatives, becoming yet another victim of our digital age and our instant gratification culture. It would appear that fewer and fewer people have the time to dig through piles, racks or longboxes of comics these days and it’s charge of which I, myself am guilty.
Ahoy! Comics, on the other hand, is purpose built to satisfy the needs of the 2017 comic book fan and collector. It’s modern, easily browsable, with a wealth of space for reflection time, clean lines and an abundance of light and air. It embraces and claims ownership of the current collector's mentality of "all things geek culture." There are no unrelated magnetic tape artifacts present here. Instead there is a healthy selection of licensed merchandise, figurines, clothing, accessories, gaming nights and now, with the closing of The Black Hole, single issues to compliment its comprehensive selection of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Unfortunately for me I am old enough to remember when comic books and the collecting of them was widely regarded as an endeavour solely for boys. Fortunately for the comics industry, the fan base has changed over the 30 plus years I have been collecting, to the point where I see something much closer to an even split between males and females in comic book shops today, on both sides of the counter. Ahoy! Comics and its owner, Jenny Heubeck, are representative of this evolution in comic book fandom. I'd like to think that right now there is an eleven year old in Dundee who feels inspired enough by the recent ‘Wonder Woman’ movie to search for a comic, who then stumbles across Jenny and Ahoy! Comics the same way I was so inspired by Tim Burton’s Batman movie and stumbled across George and The Black Hole all those years ago. I'd also like to hope that this would serve as the catalyst and begins as fulfilling a relationship with comics for them, as mine has been for me.
A few days after the official closing of the shop, several cryptic messages began to appear on The Black Hole's Facebook page, followed by a change in logo. This was trailed by the announcement that it was to undergo something of a metamorphosis and transform into an online entity, with a mission statement to provide a back issue service from the "vaults" of the shop's stock and potentially a standing order service in the future. The new keeper of flame is Raymond Kelly, who stated on the shop's social media that "the Black Hole is iconic and need(ed) to continue in some form. So I have agreed to take on the mantle of the Black Hole - think of it as Bruce Wayne handing over the cowl to the new Batman….."
Contemporary thinking, following on from a Stephen Hawkins theory and, as such referred to as “Hawking Radiation,” suggests that black holes don’t die, they merely dissolve. It would appear that the influence of George Cordeiro and the Black Hole have dispersed in a similar fashion.