Fanzine Focus: A Look Back at BEM

Do you remember the ace British comic zine, BEM? Perhaps you have copies squirrelled away, or you’ve checked out the archive of the influential zine, edited and published by Martin Lock between 1973 and 1982, over on the brilliant Classic UK Comic Zines site run by David Hathaway-Price.

The US version of the final issue of BEM #36, cover by Bryan Talbot. With thanks to to David Roach
The US version of the final issue of BEM #36, cover by Bryan Talbot. With thanks to to David Roach

Running for 36 issues, the title started out as a black and white zine launched as Bemusing Magazine, but progressed to a more polished zine, which began to feature commissioned covers later in its run, by Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Mike Higgs, Hunt Emerson, Mike McMahon, Russ Nicholson, Bryan Talbot and others.

Offering an enjoyable mix of news, features, comic strips and, of course a plethora of classified ads that are a snapshot of British comics history in themselves, sifting through the title’s convention reports and other items is quite a delight.

Somewhere in the house, I still have my copy of BEM 27, with its striking cover of editor and publisher Dez Skinn drawn by Dave Gibbons, which features a thoroughly informative interview with the man who back then re-shaped Marvel UK and was on his way, I seem to recall, to launching Warrior. It’s a memorable issue, not only for the interview, but for Kev F. Sutherland’s hilarious, scurrilous cartoons that accompanied it!

By the end of its run, Martin had cut a deal with American group NMP to publish an edition in the United States with its own “variant” cover. Cartoonist and comics archivist Lew Stringer recalls Martin used to sell them on his table at the legendary Westminster Comic Marts, and subscribers would receive them too. “Going with NMP was probably a mistake,” he suggests. “It was a far better ‘zine when Martin had full control.”

Toward the end of its run, Martin was by then very busy with Harrier Comics, another place where he worked with plenty of new, rising talent. Perhaps that’s why this great title drew to a close – but you can delve back into it on David’s fantastic archive site.

The Classic UK Comic Zines site celebrates many British comic fanzine publications, and the people who produced and contributed to them. It is assembled with the permission of the editors with their full permission. You can also find copies of David’s own zine, FANSCENE, a thoroughly enjoyable, free romp through British comics history in its own right!

There’s an article on the history of BEM here on Wikipedia

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

Categories: Comics, Digital Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Magazines

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5 replies

  1. Just for the historical record, John, BEM started out being printed A5 on a primitive photocopier, such being renowned for their inability to handle solid black areas, hence the greyness of the end product. Old duplicators, such as Gestetner, were great with solids but bloody fiddly with visuals.

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