INTERVIEW | Jared from OK Comics on Deathlok, the origin of the shop’s name, 15th birthday party celebrations and some must read comic books

By kind permission of Don’t Mess With Yorkshire. Credit: Reece Leung

Like many British school-children before him, JARED MYLAND read The Beano and The Dandy, sparking a lifelong passion that would eventually lead him to open OK Comics. On the eve of the shop’s 15th birthday, he tells NEIL MUDD why comics are not just for children…

OK Comics is fifteen. Situated in Thornton’s Arcade off Briggate in Leeds city centre, the comic shop is owned and run by Jared Myland who is behind the counter serving when I arrive for a chat. Casually dressed and wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, he has an affable, easy-going manner and an encyclopaediac knowledge of comics, compared to my Post-It note sized one.

Like most British adults, his earliest memory of comics is reading The Beano and The Dandy as a child – “the usual stuff basically.” When in his teens he discovered Marvel comics and prototype Robocop character, Deathlok, he was hooked: “That’s the first comic I was really serious about,” he says. “The one that made me want to get hold of back issues and build up my own collection.”

A stint in the office of an interior design company after art college convinced Jared that the future was hand drawn and inked. Quickly rising through the ranks of Leeds comic shop Space Odyssey, which later morphed into Forbidden Planet – “I worked for them when they were a comic shop that sold toys before they became a toy shop that sold comics” – Jared set up OK Comics fifteen years ago trading and selling online from his dining room table. Teaming up with the owner of the warehouse where he sourced his packaging supplies, Jared opened the first OK Comics shop in Market Street, before relocating to its present address over thirteen years ago.

There are various origin stories for the shop’s name. One of Jared’s favourite albums is OK Computer by Radiohead, “so that’s in there. Also OK means something positive in pretty much every language,” he says. “It is the most recognised word in the world.” The second, worryingly, is Coke…  

The strange and wonderful story of OK soda, Coca-Cola’s doomed attempt at tapping into the disgruntled slacker market of the 90s, bears repeating. Adopting a frankly bizarre selling strategy – OK was said to taste like ‘carbonated tree sap,’ while its advertising slogans mocked the parent company’s hippy-dippy catchphrases of the seventies (‘I’m OK. You’re OK.’) – the brand was a catastrophic failure. Discontinued, it developed an afterlife online, growing a cult following amongst the very slackers it was aimed at in the first place. Define irony.

Posted in the entrance to OK Comics is a rare promotional sheet for OK soda which features some of the brand’s twisted aphorisms. Sample: What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything? Perhaps of greater import to comic heads is that the brand’s packaging featured artwork by the likes of Charles Burns and Dan Clowes. Naturally, Jared is a fan and owns a complete set at home.

“We could just have called the shop Totally Awesome Comics, I suppose,” he says about the name and striking a dramatic superhero pose, “but that’s not what we’re about. We prefer not to shout. We let the comics speak for themselves.” His concept for OK Comics has always been less a comic shop and more a bookshop or library.

The shop is bright and welcoming, a reflection, Jared says, of his background in interior design. Throughout our conversation, there is a steady stream of customers into the shop. They come in all shapes and varieties and Jared seems to know every one of them. “People say it must be great being your own boss,” he says, “but I tell them I have thousand of bosses. Every customer is a boss. Every time someone steps through the door, I’ve got a new one.” Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The shop’s 15th Birthday Party celebrations take place during the weekend of Thought Bubble, the annual comics convention in Leeds. OK has teamed up with nearby Don’t Mess With Yorkshire / Welcome Skates – “Joe Decie [writer of Collecting Sticks] has designed a skateboard for them” – as well as Northern Brewing Co. who has created a bottled beer, Femme Fatale, especially for them. In a nod to OK soda, the bottles all feature stunning designs by Sean Phillips, best known for his work on Hellblazer and his own comic, Fatale. There is also a special signings event by Titan Books and limited edition signed prints by Sean Phillips of his Femme Fatale artwork available to buy, along with rare comics memorabilia and collections. Money will be raised at the event for the Special Stars Charity.

Finally, asked to choose his pick of recent titles, Jared reaches for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Sonny Liew’s fictional artist biography which combines imagined and real history to chart the entire history of both comics and Singapore. He picks up and fans through Emil Ferris’s incredible fictional graphic diary of a 10-year-old girl, My Favourite Thing Is Monsters, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography, and set against the political turmoil of late ’60s America. Two of the shop’s best-selling titles are by local authors, Jared tells me: Darryl Cunningham whose Supercrash is a comic book account of the global financial crisis and the mess we find ourselves in, and Becoming Unbecoming, Una’s exploration of male violence set against the background of the 1970’s Yorkshire Ripper murderhunt

Still think comics are for kids? Whatever your tastes, whatever your age, Jared has probably got the comic book for you. Visit OK Comics and wish them Happy Birthday.

OK Comics 15th Birthday Party, 7.00 pm 23rd September 2017 at OK Comics, 19 Thornton’s Arcade, Briggate, Leeds LS1 6LQ.