AN INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN LOCK (PART THREE | THE HARRIER COMICS YEARS)
What made you start Harrier?
It gradually crept up on me. BEM had been running serial strips, generally “H.M.S. Conqueror” and lighter single and part pagers, and had a couple of “summer special” issues with added extra strips by such luminaries as Eddie Campbell. And the black and white independent comics boom, soon to become a glut, was just starting. So somehow the idea came for “H.M.S. Conqueror” to go, boldly of course, into its own comic, soon accompanied by the anthology title Swiftsure.
Tell us about Harrier New Wave and the comics publishing scene in the UK at the time.
Different comics had different amounts of input from me, and with titles like Second City, Deadface, !Gag!, Paris the Man of Plaster, and Rob Sharp’s books I wasn’t really involved except as publisher, I didn’t have editorial input, which was probably just as well, as people like Phil Elliott and Fast Fiction were a lot better qualified on that side than I was. I remember Eddie Campbell being less than pleased with a “house ad” I put on a Deadface back cover, probably the Nightbird one on issue 4… We did have some overlap with Trident, and of course Valkyrie Press who took over Redfox… there were never any legal contracts, so creators were free to move if they wanted to. It must have seemed a strange moment for the artist “Fox” when modern-day avatars of his two heroines turned up on his doorstep, but as a team they did pretty well; I may be wrong, but I think that Redfox almost got its own “shared world” text story anthology, but there was some problem over the rights.
Why and how did Harrier end?
Well, the black & white independent market crashed, and Harrier did have the disadvantage of not being based in the USA, so we were very much at the mercy of how the comics distributors presented our titles in their monthly advance listings. Creators had been bringing in their new work, and we’d been proceeding on the assumption that we’d be getting the level of order we were getting at that point; luckily I didn’t make firm promises, so didn’t end up paying people on spec, but when you expected orders for 3,000 or so copies, and the figure came in at around 850, days did appear to be numbered.
Have comics always paid your way (either as publisher, writer or dealer) or have you had a “day job”?
I worked in the sales department of a chemicals company when BEM started, in offices in a wing of Bush House in London and my very first printer was in The Aldwych nearby; I’d tend to walk across to Dark They Were & Golden Eyed in Berwick Street in my lunch hour, or otherwise browse the shops in the middle of town. When the company, who had their main factory in Droitwich, decided to move the head office to Worcester, that rather suited me, as it was a city I’d often visited with my parents to visit relatives, and I knew it well. I can’t say that I’ve ever earned enough money from comics and fanzines to live on, it has just been a hobby.
What were the most stressful moment in your career in comics?
I’m not big on stress, though the tumbling order figures didn’t make for a happy time. Nobody made a scene, luckily, so things just drew quietly to a close. It’s a shame that the interest in black & white comics just faded away so fast - we had more projects planned, and Stephen Baskerville had drawn the whole of his strip for a “Jim Dandy in the Underworld” limited series, which was really excellent work… I’d worked on a back-up script or two and had an artist lined up for that. As with the serial in Swiftsure, it was so tightly done that it really wasn’t suitable for publishing any other way.
What are the highlights of your career in comics?
Well, an Eagle Award was nice, though I suspect it was more for my fanzine writing than the comics. Suggesting that “Fox” turn his fanzine-style Redfox into a regular black & white comic, and then getting massive orders for the issue, was fun, though I suspect that the artist/writer may well have been hoping I’d have such a bright idea. If only we’d been geared up for newsprint-type printing at that point, instead of the more boutique style of my normal British printer, we’d have made serious money then! Getting covers generously donated by people like Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, and John Bolton, who were thusly kindly aiding the newer artists we used like Steve Baskerville, Lew Stringer, Steve Yeowell, and the ever-reliable Dave Harwood. Putting together the pulp/anthology-style Conquerer Universe… and of course each time one saw the finished fruit of one’s labours, the sense of achievement was nice.
What have you been up to since the demise of Harrier?
I made the decision to “sex up” Barbarienne a bit, and got it published by Fantagraphics in the USA, under their Eros imprint. They did decree that it had to be mainly sex, though, which rather got in the way of the projected story arc. Gary Groth and Kim Thompson took another couple of series, but their market eventually dwindled, rather. The Barbarienne characters, with their clothes on, have made a few minor appearances since. Otherwise, I’ve been relatively quiet, though I always have a few ideas bubbling away!
Can I assume I’d be right to say that you are now in your 60s?
You can, yes - well, early sixties, anyway. A relative sent me a photograph she took on an outing to Bekonscot a few months ago, and I didn’t recognise myself for a moment; I could audition for a role in Last of the Summer Wine if it was still going! Fandom used to be a young man’s game, but people have stuck around, and I guess it’s okay to be grey now. And of course some of the people we used to know, like Rich Morrissey, Steve Whitaker, Martin Skidmore. T. M. Maple, and a few others, are no longer with us, so growing old is definitely better than the alternative…
I’m sure I’ll be joined by a large number of people from the UK comics world when I thank Martin for all his great work over the years and wish him the best in his future endeavours. In a private email he hints at some new comics-related activity in 2013…