For anyone who hasn’t yet heard the sad news, Martin Skidmore died this Tuesday, July 27th. He has been suffering from cancer for some time.
Martin edited and wrote for the influential comics zine ’FA’ between 1984 and 1989, which he’d recently brought back as a website. (Though, typically ominverous, he was involved in much else on-line including an extensive website devoted to the Japanese arts.)
I’ve said before (here and here) how big an influence ’FA’ was upon me back then. In fact this may be yet another time when Martin is able to put things more sharply and succinctly. Steve Whitaker, another important figure from that crowd, sadly died in 2008, so Martin wrote him a tribute. Reflecting on his early days in comics fandom, he commented:
“I was cocky enough to… imagine I had some idea what I was talking about but I soon realised, from talking to Steve, how little I knew... I never worked out how Steve knew so much about comics. He wasn’t one of those people who had filled his head with one thing to the exclusion of all else, but he knew more than seemed possible…. But really, it wasn’t factual knowledge that affected me so much. We’d talk about comic writing and art, and Steve’s understanding of these was incomparably more sophisticated and advanced than mine... he could talk interestingly about art and music and movies and plenty more, besides comics, and he was generous… with his time and knowledge, always keen to discuss and explain.”
Though I’d agree with every word Martin said about Steve there, I could equally apply each one to him. I can remember the first few times I met him, still wet behind the ears, and being quite taken aback by how someone so well-read and sharp-witted could take such an interest in what I had to say! (To this day, I think he must have published my awful early reviews out of sheer generosity of spirit.)
An anecdote might sum Martin up best. Back in the day, a notorious blowhard wrote a damning screed to ’FA’, backing up his sanctimony with a list of his qualifications and accomplishments: “I am a man with a mensa-tested IQ of 156 who can speak or read French, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin and some Sanskrit, who is writing a book which...” well, you get the idea.
Though ferociously intelligent, Martin did not rise to this challenge. Instead he simply dismissed the baseless rantings “and I say that as a good amateur table tennis player.” He found their author “a fool, because that’s the sort of person who generally grossly underestimates everyone else.” He was simply too smart to play smart.
Rest in peace, amateur table tennis player. It was good to know you...
Postscript: Photos of Martin, myself and Neil (apologies, can’t remember his second name!) at Comics Friends United 2009. (Martin had neck trouble that day, hence the hoody.) Also one of Martin’s last outings, at a London Comic Mart (which alas I couldn’t make), with visible weight loss inflicted by his illness... Both from the photostream of Martin Hand, aka World Of Agwu.