Comics must have seemed a precarious - or at least fast-moving - business by now. TV Action folded in Autumn 1973, having faced sustained competition from Look-in since January 1971. What did you know of Look-in? What impressed me even as a kid reading Look-in in the 70s was the quality of the colour paper and printing - was this a draw to the top artists of the day? Knowing they'd get good colour reproduction most of the time (some of the newsprint colour repro on TV Action was pretty horrible and it was still a comparably lavish title in British terms)?
How did you get to work on Look-in? Colin Shelbourn seems to claim he 'discovered' you! Did you have to do some grovelling or were you headhunted?
I was unaware of Look-In (don't ask me why) but as soon as I realised how successful it appeared to be was very excited when they made contact. It was I think Alan Fennell or it may have been Colin Shelbourn at the behest of Alan who made the call. I had met Alan now and then in the past and I guess he must have suggested me to Colin.
And what was the first work you did for Look-in? I've got an issue from October 1973 where you're providing a 2-page 'Follyfoot' strip. Its usual artist, the venerable Mike Noble, had this beautifully developed, romantic comic strip style on 'Follyfoot' but some of the characters like Steve and Dora didn't really look like the actors, more like stylised comic creations - I thought you made it a bit more gritty and more like the TV series itself? Was this your trial period?
Yes 'Follyfoot' was the first thing I drew in Look-In and I am pretty sure that it was a trial period. I didn't like the subject but, hey!, it was work AND work on the leading comic/magazine of the day too!
Colin and co must have liked you because they gave you the regular artist's role on their adaptation of the new US martial arts series' 'Kung-Fu' in Spring 1974 (number 11). Do you feel this is where you really 'arrived' as a 'name' artist? In terms of discovering your technique and getting regular colour work every week? There were some great Western style panoramas to it (one horse towns, railroads, paddle steamers), some energetic action fight scenes and even those psychedelic bits where Caine's mind went back to revisit his teachings (very St Martins!?).
A couple of try-outs on Follyfoot marked Martin's Look-in debut in late 1973
Above: Martin's breakthrough colour work on Kung-Fu helped lift Look-in's circulation to new heights
I was thrilled, flattered and excited when invited to draw 'Kung Fu'. I had seen the series on television and liked it a lot. To be the first artist to do it, to have a regular job, to have the strip in prime position - a centre page spread AND in the best comic of the time ... WOW! It was fantastic and I was that proverbial dog with those two tails! It was then in my euphoria, I guess, that I allowed myself to think I was 'on the scene' as it were and that the top artists of the time would now know I existed. And on top of it all - KUNG-FU! - I just loved doing it - just loved it!
It was such a hit on TV and the strip really helped boost Look-in's sales figures to what was then an all-time high.
I was completely unaware that the sales figures had risen and it would be nice to think that what I did then contributed to that situation.
Were there any problems with the violence in the strip (the irony being that the show preached tolerance, anti-violence and 'the empty hand')? Look-in ran a Bruce Lee cover in 1974 and I know they got into trouble for that, for promoting violence and 'X' films.
As far as I'm concerned there was absolutely no problem with that at that time.
Now, I've long wondered why you left 'Kung-Fu' for a spell in early 1975 and ended up working on 'Doctor Who' for TV Comic for 15 weeks? Dennis Hooper was writing the strip at that point and you'd know him well from your Countdown/TV Action days - was this a distress call from an old friend?
In December 1974 and early 1975 I went to visit my sister in Canada which resulted in a reluctant absence from 'Kung-Fu' and Mike Noble stepped into the breach.
[Noble's strip 'Black Beauty' soon ended up in a procession of hands, including I think - to my eyes at least - Leslie Branton and Stanley Houghton, while Mike Noble took over Martin's post at 'Kung-Fu' before Noble in turn had to turn down colour work due to family illness - Al]