AN INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN LOCK (PART 1 | THE BEM YEARS)
Looking through British comics fanzines of the 70s and 80s there’s one name that comes up again and again: Martin Lock. It was Martin’s BEM fanzine that introduced me (and many, many others) to comics fandom. I think that from the late 70s to the mid 80s no person was more influential in British comics fandom. BEM and FA’s letters columns (“Reaction” and “No Man’s Land” respectively) were a rival to The Comics Journal’s, with issues of the day being debated by fans and pros alike. The later issues of BEM were professionally produced featuring covers by the likes of Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon, Bryan Talbot, and Dave Gibbons. And, unlike almost every other zine of the day, Martin made sure his came out on a regular schedule. BEM ran from 1973 to 1981, when due to business difficulties with Hal Shuster’s NMP, BEM ceased publication and Lock revived Fantasy Advertiser (FA) which he edited and published until 1985.
In 1984,as his tenure at FA was finishing, Martin started Harrier Comics, which, in addition to featuring his own Conquerer work, also provided a more polished and better distributed outlet for comics by Eddie Campbell, Phil Elliot, Glenn Dakin, Paul Grist, Ed Pinsent, Woodrow Phoenix, and Steve Way, amongst others.
I was delighted to be able to get in touch with Martin, now in his sixties, and thank him for all of his work back then… and he was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for him.
How did you become involved in comics and comics fandom?
Martin: It was all a scary number of years ago now, but comics were a part of growing up - mainly British ones like Swift and The Beano, with the occasional Marvelman perhaps; I may even have been exposed to Superman and his friends back then, and I do remember an issue or two of the Alan Class-published 64-page reprint mystery comic compilations. In many ways I was more interested in science fiction at one stage, which led me to specialist shops like Dark They Were & Golden Eyed, Fantasy Centre, and one or two less central places, and becoming a “regular” exposed one to the comics side, and the fanzines.
You were a regular contributor to fanzines, which one influenced you most?
Martin: It would be hard to pick one; there was Nick Landau & Richard Burton’s Comic Media, and Richard’s spin-off Comic Media News, and of course Alan Austin’s Fantasy Unlimited, later Comics Unlimited. Comic fandom had already been going for quite a while when I stepped aboard. I like to think of the way comics fandom was set up as a kind of precursor to the internet, especially with things like amateur press associations, though the connection speed was rather slower.
Why did you start BEM?
Martin: The other people I was involved with had their own fanzines, so why not me as well? I’d helped with the production of Comic Media, which was always more high-tech and professional. As a title “Bemusing Magazine” sounds more like an SF thing than comics, but the shortened version was suitably punchy.
When did you feel that BEM had taken off and become Britain’s leading fanzine?
Martin: I can’t say that I noticed that particularly, there were always some other strong titles around; I did tend to shamelessly play up the “comics news” or “comic mart special” side to bring in comics readers who weren’t particularly part of fandom, hopefully some of them did stick around. You jog along, doing your best, and eventually you notice you’re in the lead, at least for a while… With the early issues, I’d go outside the London comic marts and happily sell them to the people waiting there before the doors opened. I think that, strictly speaking, Richard Burton and Comic Media News had the permission to run news and covers from The Comic Reader, from Paul Levitz, but I was very kindly allowed access too.
At their peak, how many copies did BEM or FA sell?
Martin: It’s hard to remember, now; I’m sure we got well over a thousand, so collating the issues did become a bit of a task - at some stage we were able to switch to the printer doing that, much to my relief. There was a time, early in the Fantasy Advertiser run, when I’d go along to the printers, basically a two-man operation, and help out. They were nice people, but some issues of the fanzine do look a little smeary in places.
Why all the pseudonyms?
Martin: Well, superhero comics are all about alter egos. It was kind of fun to see a village name on a signpost while on holiday in Cornwall, and then decide it would make a good pen-name. Basically the idea, I suppose, was to have a welcoming community that new arrivals would like to join, rather than have an intimidating one-man show, like those spoof credits for a movie where the same name is director, producer, star, key grip, cameraman, caterer, and chief location scout, et cetera. Since the production method did involve re-doing contributions onto squared paper to be able to have justified columns, being responsible for a number of features didn’t really add to my workload. Occasionally a new person would come along, and my pen-name could gracefully retire.
Just to confirm, you hand-justified the columns of text in BEM and FA by writing it out in pencil one letter per box on graph paper and then seeing how many spaces you had to add to get things to line up?
Martin: It does seem hard to believe now, doesn’t it? I’d add red spots to show where I needed two spaces between words, or black signs where I’d need to squeeze more in by only having half a space between words, as the ol’ electronic typewriter did have a “half-space” function. And if the writer was me, I might well choose the phrasing that would fit most conveniently. I’d type on large A3 paper, typing all three columns, or whatever, at once, line by line. You will find some professional typesetting in some issues, but one still needed to supply typed copy, and it needed to be carefully proof-read and annotated and re-done, so it wasn’t that much of a time-saver. I suppose I watched a bit less television than most people, and of course there was no Internet for online gaming and browsing…
What were the highlights of producing BEM?
Martin: Producing a new issue’s highlight was when it was finally finished, when all the pages had been collated and stapled together, the subscription copies had been trundled to the post office, and I could sit back and feel that the job had been done, and wait for the letters of comment.
What actually happened with the last two issues of BEM and NMP?
Martin: Hal Shuster of New Media Publishing/Irjax seemed to be a successful publisher of independent comics, and fanzines like Comics Feature, so when he was interested in bringing BEM to a US audience, I was flattered of course. I think the first idea was just for me to ship copies to the USA, so I’m glad that things changed to me just supplying the pages and the magazine being printed over there, or I could have ended up seriously out of pocket.
My Hereford-based printer had been doing the necessary photography work for those two issues, but luckily he considered that he was working for Hal Shuster rather than me, so didn’t chase me for the money he was owed when NMP suddenly ceased trading.
How do you feel about the Internet replacing the printed comics fanzines? Are we better or worse off?
Martin: Times change, and we change too - producing BEM took an awful lot of time, looking back, but now one just needs to log on to a blogging site, type away, and then hit the “publish” key. As I was saying, there was something of the spirit of an online community in fandom, with our contacts in far-flung places, amateur press associations where everyone would contribute pages to the next mailing, and lengthy letters columns with individual answers to the points raised. One can mourn the passing of individually hand-crafted items, but the immediacy of the web, pulling a fanzine, or its website or blog equivalent, onto your computer or tablet at the press of a button, gives great opportunities, and gives us a chance to keep the community spirit going.
We’ll have more from Martin about Fantasy Advertiser and Harrier Comics next time…