As Leigh Baulch Retires From Titan Comics, Neil Gaiman Asks What If?
If you are sensing a seismic shift in the global comic-book ecosystem today, it's because one of the most widely-yet-quietly influential figures in global comics publishing/retailing is sailing off into the sunset. Leigh Baulch, Group Operations Director of the Titan Entertainment Group, and the Forbidden Planet comics retail chain, retires today after 36 years of helping build Forbidden Planet from a shopfront in Denmark Street, into one of the top three retailers of comics in the English-speaking world. Within the pop culture business, Leigh is primarily known for being extremely good-natured and wildly multi-talented, combining the roles of architect, designer, comic-book artist, business lead/negotiator, IT spod, human resources director, and facilities & freight expert). One of those industry figures about whom no-one has anything bad to say. And we did try. Here are a few;
Nick Landau & Vivian Cheung-Landau, Owners/CEOs Titan/Forbidden Planet: "To say Titan's Group Operations Director Leigh Baulch is multi-talented is like saying Clark Kent is quite strong. When we first met, Leigh was working logistics at a freight agent in Heathrow and, on the side, sketching out character designs for a newly-revised DC character Neil Gaiman was starting to write: the Sandman. On joining Titan, he settled in as Design Studio Chief, before launching Titan Magazines and our US Mail Order operation.He was the first person at Titan who really knew anything about IT and he actually wrote a lot of our early software. Leigh then set up Titan Merchandise and designed & physically built the Shaftesbury Avenue Forbidden Planet, along with virtually every other Forbidden Planet store since then. Eventually, Leigh ran the whole Forbidden Planet operation, while also helping Vivian and I run the rest of the group. That's something only a G.O.D. can do… Leigh: we are very sad to see you leave, but grateful for your wise counsel, calm demeanour and steady hand over 36 wonderful years. We wish you and Jane all the very best for a long and fruitful retirement!"
Rian Hughes, comics creator and designer of the Forbidden Planet logo: "Leigh Baulch is retiring? Isn't he the young chap who just started the design studio at Titan? Many years ago, before the Apple Mac, when I was right out of art college, I saw an advertisement in the window of the old Forbidden Planet in Denmark Street asking for a designer. Leigh saw my portfolio and took a chance on me. I got to work on Love and Rockets, Batman, Gerry Anderson and other favourites. Down the line, this led to work at DC Comics and Marvel Comics, and the rest is history. I'll always be grateful for that early break, sir! May you have a happy retirement – and finally get around to reading all those comics."
Andrew Sumner, Titan EVP: "I first met Leigh Baulch sometime in the early 90s and I was immediately struck by his sartorial elegance, his outrageous black leather trousers (they may have been black jeans, but my mind prefers to think of them as black leather trousers, almost identical to the ones Pete Wylie wore in the video for his 1986 single Sinful – and I've certainly seen Leigh wear leather trousers since then and they were glorious) and his epic hair, of which I've always been wildly envious. Mainly because Leigh's hair is so lush and thick for a man his age – but also because he's channelling pure comic book DNA with his styling, a fearless mix of classic Spider-Man villains the Schemer and Silvermane, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and legendary Marvel artist Jim Steranko. Those three elements alone would be enough to ascend Leigh to the Olympian heights of comic book industry immortality but with Mr Baulch, that's just the opening course. Not only has Leigh run the day-to-day for a company as complex as Titan/Forbidden Planet for the last 36 years, not only has he done it with charm, intelligence, understanding and empathy, not only has he filled a wider spectrum of job roles than anyone I've ever worked with (over four decades) – he's also made a very significant and influential creative contribution to global comic book culture, as you can hear him (very modestly) telling me about in the attached Forbidden Planet TV interview. Will I miss Leigh Baulch? Of course. I'm only human. Will Titan/Forbidden Planet miss Leigh Baulch? Undoubtedly. But in the words of the Cookie Monster: 'No cry because cookie is finished. Smile because cookie happened.'"
Neil Gaiman: "I was fortunate to find myself befriended by Leigh Baulch in 1986, when we were both drawn into the orbit of a dodgy anthology comic that would never happen, and even more fortunate that he introduced me to Dave McKean and helped send me into a life in comics. Leigh illustrated a prose Judge Hershey story for me in a Judge Dredd Annual back then, and did the first ever Sandman concept designs. I thought about writing a story about Leigh here. In my story, Leigh would have stuck around on Sandman, been the initial artist, used it as springboard into ever-more world-shattering comics projects, and would occasionally have pondered what his life would have been like if he'd stayed at Titan, thirty-six years ago. It would have been my own wish-fulfilment fantasy: I loved Leigh's art, and always wished there would have been more of it. But it wouldn't have been Leigh's fantasy. He's someone who was always clear-eyed about what he wanted to do with his art and his considerable talents, where he wanted to place his craft, and that he would always be putting his family — his real family and his Titan family — first. And he did it for decades with charm, intelligence, and an unerring eye for what works and what doesn't, and left the world a better place for what he did. I'm glad Leigh got to live out his fantasy. (Anyway, Will Eisner did all his best comics work after he'd retired…)"
Leigh discusses his Forbidden Planet career and the early days of Neil Gaiman's Sandman here: