'MELIA? MELIA? Shouldn't that be Media.' This waggish observation came (though not for the first time) at the launch of Strip Aids, in 1987 - one of the many brilliantly conceived and executed projects created by Don Melia that mixed comics, culture and conscience.
Strip Aids, a fund-raising comic and exhibition for the London Lighthouse, featured donated work from nearly 90 artists, including Posy Simmonds, Mel Calman, Jamie Reid, Margi Clarke, Alan Moore, Los Bros Hernandez and Steve Bell. It was a triumphant breakthrough in the battle for Aids awareness and education - a battle which Melia continued to wage even up to the last months of his life, whether at home or in hospital, constantly questioning and campaigning - and it was the finest example of his vision, commitment and grasp of the finer art of public relations.
Though Melia had previously spent some years working in the film industry - which reaped a rich harvest of Warhol-like gossip for which he became infamous - many people came to know him through the pioneering comic publications that he created from the mid-1980s onwards. In 1986, Melia, together with his former long-time partner Lionel Gracey-Whitman, created 'Matt Black', the world's first gay superhero. In 1987 they began Heartbreak Hotel, the brilliantly brash and influential magazine that brought together comic art and music and served as a launch pad for the subsequent success of many new young artists. It was at the centre of the real comic art revolution in this country, the brash, independent underbelly of an industry that has since been embraced by the main stream, but then Melia was also to play a vital role in this.
The energy and skills he brought to Strip Aids did not go unnoticed by Titan Books, then Britain's biggest comics publisher and distributor, and Melia subsequently became their publicity director. Between 1988 and 1990, he generated much of the mainstream media coverage of the 'new comics' revolution.
He had always bemoaned the fact that Britain never had a lesbian and gay comic, and ironically, it was only after failing health forced him to leave Titan that, from out of his council flat and funded from his state benefits, he produced Buddies, perhaps the one that ultimately meant most to him.
Knowing he was dying, he moved back to his home town of Liverpool. For many of us it is almost impossible to comprehend that he is not sitting on a sofa, cigarette in one hand, cup of tea in the other, simultaneously listening to Sixties tapes, watching Divine movies and vexing about the world.Reuse content