In the 1970's only a small range of US comic books were available
on the UK news-stands. A keen collector saw an opportunity
to both enhance his collecting and to set up a business with
a comic import and distribution operation from the family
garage. This year Forbidden Planet not only celebrates its
25th Anniversary but also opens the doors on the world's largest
science fiction, comic and cult entertainment store. Darren
Rea recently spoke with the company's owners Nick Landau and
Rea: Forbidden Planet opened its first shop back in 1978,
can you tell us what was behind the decision to open your
Landau: There's a rather strange reason for opening the first
store. At the time I was a distributor for imported comic
books. One of our largest customers was about to go out of
business and if they did we would probably have gone out of
know there should be a more exciting mythology than this...
but that's how we started. Partly as a form of protection
for our distribution business we opened the very first Forbidden
Planet in Denmark Street. It was located in 'Tin Pan Alley'
which is the legendary music street where numerous bands were
said to have formed. The Rolling Stones, and various
other famous musicians, were regulars at the cafe across the
we were in the middle of the whole music scene Forbidden Planet
took off very quickly. The timing was also very good because
we opened not long after Star Wars was released and
then once we were open it wasn't long after that Alien
came along. I think we were very lucky that we developed a
cult status very early on.
get a lot stars and directors coming into the store. I remember
getting the call from on high to go and see Ridley Scott when
he was about to make the Dune movie - which of course
was actually made by David Lynch. And even though we were
only really retailers he wanted consultancy services because
he felt that we knew what we were doing - although we were
faking it a bit. He was looking for storyboard artists and
we ended up providing him with a number of people from the
comic book industry.
always had a reputation for having a lot of signings. One
of our early signings was with Douglas Adams and I was surprised
to see that his first Forbidden Planet signing was referred
to as "The legendary Forbidden Planet signing" in
hadn't bought enough copies of his latest book from his publisher
and so we were rushing around the West End buying every copy
of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to bring back
to sell to this enormous line of about 1200 people.
Which, for you personally, has been the most exciting guest
you've had in for a signing?
The exciting ones are your heroes. Sometimes when you meet
them they are not as exciting as you thought, while other
people you thought wouldn't be as exciting surprise you. We
had a very unusual signing with Arthur C. Clarke. He had said
that he didn't want to touch the book so we had to sign the
pages as he signed his name. He also only wanted one person
in sight as he walked into the room. He was lovely, but the
quirkiness of it all was very strange.
won't mention names here, but we've had some top names in
the business who have consumed many bottles of scotch and
then tottered perilously down the street to the store and
our biggest fear was that those authors would be run over
by a car on the way to the store. When we opened the New Oxford
St store we invited Adam West who played Batman in the '60s.
We got a batmobile along for the occasion and the driver did
a horrible sharp U-turn in front of a double decker bus as
he was approaching the store. We almost disposed of both Adam
and the batmobile.
had Leonard Nimoy in for a signing and we were told we only
had him for an hour and he we had a line of about 900 people
which would normally take three or four hours to get through
with a regular signing. When he arrived at the signing he
had lost his voice, so all he could do was sign books. We
had, what must be the fastest signing in history - we had
about a thousand signatures in an hour. Which was great from
the point of view that everyone went away happy that they
had received an autograph. We love to have people there for
hours signing and chatting to fans. The Terry Pratchett signings
we do last for hours...
Cheung: They are wonderful. They talk to people so everybody
walks away feeling a little bit special because they have
talked to their hero - that's the wonderful thing about that,
but obviously it does take time.
You've just opened your new flagship store which is nearly
twice the size of the old store in New Oxford Street. Do you
think that the recent hit of sci-fi shows like Buffy
have helped keep the market buoyant?
We like to think that the market has caught up with us a bit,
in terms of the movie stuff but that's probably being a little
over pretentious. I think that it's down to the fact that
over the years we have seen an increase in science fiction
and comic based films and television.
I think the media has helped a lot. When Forbidden Planet
started sci-fi on television had only just really started.
The original series of Star Trek and Doctor Who were
probably the only real sci-fi shows on. Now it is more accessible
to a larger market.
Have there been any items that you have refused to stock on
the grounds of good taste?
We have many different reputations. Forbidden Planet, as a
concept, represents a collection of fan bases. This stretches
from the soft end of the scale - say Thunderbirds or
The Simpsons - to things of a far more extreme nature
(things like the Asia Extreme video nasties). We are there
to satisfy all of the different fanbases and we've never gone
in for censorship. Forbidden Planet has always been kind of
edgy in its approach to things. I remember when the first
or second Hellraiser movie came out and we had Frank on loan
and we put him in the window. And within five minutes of putting
the skinned Frank in the window we had the police round because
some little old lady thought that it was the most obscene
thing she had seen.
Also when The X-Files has the foetus in the tube we
put that in the window and again we got a complaint and so
we put a sign saying: "This came from The X-Files"
[laughs] so that everybody knew it was part of a prop. I think
that once you put it in context so that people that it does
come from somewhere rather than us trying to gross people
A lot of people come down to Forbidden Planet to blow a large
chunk of their salary each month. Where do you both go when
you want to spend some money on a hobby?
We're actually very sad in as much that we just sit in the
office and get on with the next project. We also run Titan
Books and Titan Magazines and are busy all of the time. So
in terms of blowing large wads of cash... That would be something
we'd both love to do if we had the time.
It's still fun to go to the Far East and roam the markets
there. You actually get a wide variety of trashy stuff. That's
fun to do, and once in a while you get little gems that you
can bring back here. There is a huge variety that we are not
stocking and there is a selection process.
What of the future. Do you see yourselves opening stores abroad?
We actually did once. We had a store in Los Angeles but found
that every time the cash register went wrong we had to jump
on a plane to fix it. As our new store shows, we are trying
to produce a strong environment for collector's as well as
the general public. We want something that will appeal to
everybody. We have an entrance to die for now for the new
store. In the past the problem was making the outside look
There's also more room. So it's no longer your tightly packed
Thank you for you time.