Martin Skidmore died about 7pm last night. I got a call around 8.25—not unexpected but it hit me pretty hard anyway. It was leaking onto the Internet in various places almost instantly… guess that’s just the way it is these days.
For those who don’t know him, he was a ‘zine then comics editor for about a decade from the early ’80s on—a long-time name in UK comics. Unfortunately, he had spent this year struggling with very aggressive cancer.
Martin was the first magazine/fanzine editor of whom I could say, I recognised an actual human being behind the editorial style. Let’s face it, if you grow up seeing Stan Lee or Stan Lee-influenced editorial hyperbole—it’s purely a schtick.
I think I first started reading Fantasy Advertiser around 1985. I believe Martin was editor from 1984 to 1990. I saw a copy in my local comics shop and was curious enough to pick it up. I was a kid, so in some respects the ‘heavyweight’ criticism and analysis (I was starting to read The Comics Journal around the same period and having a similar reaction) was sometimes over my head. But Martin grounded it. His editorials were written in a regular guy’s voice—no front, no schtick, no playing to the crowd… open and genuine. I hadn’t seen the like before. It was a warm and inviting feeling.
I didn’t meet Martin until the noughties. This is almost not quite true. At the big London comics con in 1995, I was sitting at the same table. I was on the end next to Steve Whitaker, and very much in his shade—which was okay with me, as I was typically feeling shy and nervous. So I just listened. Martin and a few others were debating some earth-shaking issue with great passion and I didn’t feel part of it really. Just a spectator.
So I met him a few times in the noughties. I got to know him through e-mail. And, at times, he found himself dealing with me at very low points, such as being dumped-on by a long-time friend and my father’s death and so on… and, unlike almost anyone else I was in touch with, he’d read every single word of my sometimes lengthy mails and, more often than not, reply in similar length. Looking back now, it amazes me. Those days are not particularly fond memories, but Martin’s generosity and indulgence is something I’ll never forget. I told him this a couple of weeks ago. I hope he appreciated the sentiment. It was the last mail I wrote to him. I knew things were getting very bad. I’d queued a later mail that I never did send… I didn’t want to get too maudlin so I spared him that.
As is often the case in life, we lost touch for extended periods. Once because of an asinine squabble when Martin’s depression was especially bad and I was very anxious about my mother’s rapidly failing health… another time simply because people sometimes lose touch. I regret not getting to hang out with him much more. When I went down to London last August, Martin was a maybe on showing up—but on the day, he felt unable to make it. (Due to his ongoing struggle with depression.) A huge regret, for me.
Martin relaunched FA (as he preferred to call it) as an online Webzine in November 2010. He’d told me of his plans some months earlier. I was eager to contribute but in the end never got round to doing so. With tragic timing, the launch of the new site coincided with him starting to get sick, so the site never got the full attention from him he’d intended. He felt unwell and it took several months to find out what was wrong. And the prognosis was bad.
About a month before he had his diagnosis, I got quite stroppy with him for not answering a couple of mails about FA contributions. It’s just one of those things. I didn’t know how ill he was getting. I guess he realised that—he apologised, but it was me who was sorry. And I still am.
Martin hoped with treatment for a year or even 18 months, and a degree of restored health for a while. But the treatment didn’t work out, the wretched disease went into overdrive and there was nothing that could be done. I had hoped to catch up with him when I was trying to relocate for the job offer I received back in April/May, although his health prevented him from venturing out a great deal. He did, very bravely in his condition, get himself to the London Comics Mart on Sunday, July 17, and many of his long-time friends came out for him. From what I understand, he was thrilled to see so many familiar faces. I’m really pleased that he was able to have one last great day with people who loved him.
I sent him a txt giving him my love last Saturday, just after he went into hospital. I now know he received that, which means a lot to me. He got lots of messages. But best of all was the message from Alan Moore via Bryan Talbot. Martin had a relatively good day on Tuesday and was able to get the message, and I believe it made him very happy.
Martin was into everything under the sun, virtually, but comics were his all-time passion. But not, you’ll note, his career. When comics dried up for him he studied Computer Science, graduated with honours and started a new career as a Systems Analyst for UCL. He was a furiously intelligent man; as honest and open as anyone you’ll ever meet; completely non-judgemental; and tirelessly enthusiastic about a mountain of different (and hugely varying) subjects. His time was much too short—but in large part, used well. I bet a lot of us wish we could say that.
I only have a couple of photos of myself with Martin (the second one also features Tim Bateman). Neither are very flattering to either of us, and Martin hated them—but I think he only ever had maybe two photos of himself taken his whole life that he didn’t hate. And no, I have no idea what happened with my Freaky Hands. Steve Ditko was hexing me or something. Anyhow, here they are, taken at the end of January 2005—during an Indian meal we had in Ilford with Tim Bateman and Paul Gravett—which suddenly seems an awful long time ago now.
Goodbye, Martin. You were a great guy—what more needs to be said?