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Thursday 09 March, 2006

My chum Ken took me out for lunch on Tuesday, which was jolly decent of him. He's recently given up his swanky (expensive) offices to work from home, so wanted to pick up a bit of working-from-home-fu. Not sure I really helped a great deal, especially as I gave him all last years 2000ADs. He gave me some copies of BEM from 1979 to 1981.

BEM is a gone, but not quite forgotton, comics fanzine put together by a guy called Martin Lock. He later went on to set up Harrier Comics, and as such has played a pretty significant role in the development of comics in this country. I'd never actually seen a copy of BEM before, and they really are quite wonderful. First of all, of course, they are from a time before desktop publishing so they look very different from today's zines. Next, you notice the sheer quantity of words. The articles are longer, far longer than you see today particularly on the web. They're qualitively different too.

Comics companies are extrememly media-savvy these days (which is what you'd expect really, what with them being media companies) and seem to keep quite a tight rein on news, creator interviews and so on. Many creators now are on exclusive contracts, for example, so can't actually talk about what they do without permission. There appears to be all this comics news, but most of it is basically press releases because comics news websites have the same relationship with comics publishers as, for example, E! has with Hollywood film studios. Thirty years ago that wasn't the case. Issue 29 of BEM, from 1980, has a massive, I mean really enormous, interview with Steve McManus and Alan Grant, then editor and sub-editor of 2000AD. It rambles all over the place, is interesting (even now), and doesn't pull any punches -

McManus: ... I took Nick Landau's job in fact.
Interviewer: He left?
McManus: He didn't leave actually, there was a bit of skull-duggery which was nothing to do with me. He was double-crossed. I think you ought to ask him about that, not me.
Interviewer: How did you become editor?
McManus: I became editor when Kelvin resigned as editor.
Interviewer: It all sounds a bit underhand.
McManus: He'd had enough of 2000AD, he wasn't being able to do what he wanted, he wasn't getting on with the people above him, and he decided to resign.
Interviews like that don't seem to exist anymore, anywhere.

Amusingly, BEM drops its already slightly too-small typeface another point or two for the letter columns. Years later Pete, unknowingly I'm sure, did the same for Vicious, and I'm sure Andy Brewer had to do the same for Battleground. Letters were so important to the health of zine, and yet you didn't want it to look that way. So you dropped a point, to try and keep the number of pages down. BEM also breaks up the letters pages with random spot illustrations, something again repeated a decade and more later by Battleground and Vicious.

No idea if the sample I have is indicative, but BEM had terrific cover illustrations -

BEM 25 cover, Luther Arkwright
BEM 25 cover. This is a Bryan Talbot pastiche I think. It's not bad either, although face is too wide that tattered flag and piles of corpses are pretty good. The cover doesn't relate to the issue contents at all, which adds weight to it being a pastiche. Inside there's an seven page strip written and pencilled by Eddie Campbell. It's called Introducing Cliff, The Moon-Man in 'The Big Hairspray Rumpus'. While not without moments of humour, it gives little (ok, extremely little) hint of budding comics genius.

BEM 28 cover by Brian Bolland, Catwoman and Batman relax on the sofa
BEM 28 cover by Brian Bolland. Wonder if he used it in his portfolio at DC?

BEM 29 cover by Mike McMahon, Judge Dredd with Steve MacManus and Alan Grant
BEM 29 cover by Mike McMahon. Notice the ABC Warriors in the background.

BEM 33 cover by Dave Gibbons
BEM 33 cover by Dave Gibbons. It's slightly longer than A4 so it's chopped slightly at the bottom, sorry. Not sure if this picture is of anything in particular. The issue itself features a long interview with Gibbons.

BEM 34 cover by Brian Bolland, Lady Blackhawk and Cerebus
BEM 34 cover by Brian Bolland. Bolland later drew Lady Blackhawk for DC's Who's Who Update '87. I don't know if Bolland draw the Cerebus too. Probably not, I think it's lifted from an early issue of Cerebus and pasted on. This issue does have an interior illustration by Dave Sim, especially for BEM, of Cerebus menacing Howard The Duck.

Pete Ashton said The main reason the lettercols were in teeny type was because without that they'd take over the whole blimmin zine. People sure did ramble, myself included.

I got a couple of issues of BEM in a job-lot of zines and SP comics and, to be honest, wasn't all that impressed. Methinks you've got something of a good crop here. [added 9th Mar 2006]

Everyone loved to ramble and it was great! If the letter did take over the whole zine then suddenly the spell would have been broken - Nothing but letters? What kind of crappy zine is this? - so we all colluded in pretending that letters were less important than they really were. [added 10th Mar 2006]
Ken [e] said I had a sub to these zines - the wilds of Fife weren't actually conducive to zine distribution. I cancelled it shortly after this batch as (a) I the an American outfit took over (comics media international?), printing shifted to the states - they claimed that editorial control remained but... and (b) I think it then vanished. I guess I came across BEM when it was at a peak, which became a precipice.

BTW sorry for the birod on bra and pants in the Moon Man strip - I was scared my mum would find me in possession of nude lady drawings!

To be honest I'm surprised at your comments that zines don't carry "honest" interviews anymore, or the like. Very surprised. I kinda expected the game would've notched up a gear or two in this respect.

The long interviews are good aren't they? I may have another one or two kicking around here somewhere - certainly one with a huge Pat Mills piece (Nemesis the Warlock cover), and a great little zine called Fantasy Express interviewing Joe Colquhoun (sp?) of Charley's War (Battle). I'll dig around... [added 10th Mar 2006]

Steve Green [e] said Jez, pretty sure that was actually one of Bryan's illustrations on =Bem #25=. My own copies are up in the attic, so difficult to check, but I'd be amazed if Martin didn't credit the art inside the issue. (The in-house reviewer "Ed Sallis" and the artist "Superswipe" are both ML pseudonyms, by the way.) [added 27th Sep 2008]
Hi Steve, hooked mine out of the storage (ok, found them under a pile of stuff as I was tidying) and checked, but can't see an art credit for the BEM 25 cover. I'm still not sure about that face, but the rest of it does look so much like Talbot that it must be by him or it's the work of the world's best tribute act :) [added 1st Jun 2009]

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