Monday 12 November 2018

Starburst memories

Apart from news programmes on TV, my first major source for behind the scenes information on films was Look-In magazine (which I wrote about here).  As my tastes expanded, so did my quest for information and then, in late 1978, I discovered a publication that gave me more than I even realised I was after.
issue 1 (which I've never seen in real life) with a wraparound Brian Lewis cover.  The image of Spock was added, apparently, because Marvel had the Star Wars licence in the UK and 20 Century Fox were worried they might get upset with another Star Wars covered magazine on the stands.
Starburst magazine was created in 1977 by Dez Skinn who published the first three issues through his own company, often scooping other film magazines with some of his articles.  When he was taken on by Marvel UK as their Editorial Director in late 1978, they inherited Starburst and began to publish it from issue 4 onwards.  He would go on to edit the magazine until early 1980 (his final issue was 19) when he left Marvel, with Alan McKenzie, who already worked on the title, taking over the reins.  Marvel sold the magazine in 1985 at issue 88 and Visual Imagination took it over, publishing it until 2009 when they went out of business (with issue 365).  Starburst continued as an online zine and was revived in print in 2012 with issue 374 by Starburst Magazine Ltd, who still publish it today (making it “the world’s longest running magazine of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy”).

I have to confess, I haven’t bought a copy in a long time and didn’t stick with it too far into the 80s either, as I felt it focused too much on TV for my liking and I was never that big a fan of Dr Who.  But those early editions were amazing and I read them eagerly from cover to cover, often picking up stray spares wherever I could (I remember finding one - no. 52, with the Krull front cover - at a Bring-and-Buy sale held at my school).  Starburst was perfect for me, not only keeping me well informed but also acting as an important stepping stone, bridging the gap from Look-In to my later discoveries of Photoplay and Premiere (and then Empire and Total Film beyond those).

Looking back at the issues in my collection now, some 40 years after the fact, they still seem as fresh and exciting as they were then.  It doesn’t matter that they were produced without the huge technological leaps in magazine publishing we've experienced since then or that the lay-out is a bit blocky (those were the typeset days, after all, with titles produced with sheets of Letraset), the content more than made up for it.

The news section (called "Things To Come", it featured, among a fair amount of gossip, some real gems - I hadn’t remembered that we knew The Empire Strikes Back was called that as early as 1978), the articles and book reviews, in-depth features and film reviews (that weren't afraid of saying exactly what they thought), the design and writing, all of them gave Starburst a distinct identity.  Wonderful writers - like John Brosnan and Tony Crawley, amongst many others - were opinionated and enthusiastic, genre-savvy and full of confidence and their words dance off the page.  Sometimes things clunk badly - John Brosnan wasn’t the biggest fan of Empire and Tony Crawley didn’t think Halloween (1978) would endure but had a good feeling about The Black Hole (1979) - but you can’t deny the passion with which they made those statements.  In fact, the only thing that hasn’t worn well is the reproduction quality of the photographs, which look a bit washed out and are sometimes hard to discern.  Certainly, whilst the coverage of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) is thorough and well-written, the photos make it seem a bit seedy (which I like) while one of an explosion is little more than a blob of white.  But regardless, reading Starburst made me feel as if I belonged to a group of like-minded folk, in the same way that reading early Fangoria issues later on in the 80s would.

I got a lot out of Starburst as the 70s eased into the 80s (and looking at some of the films covered, it truly was a wonderful time to be a genre fan) and re-reading them now in celebration has been a lot of fun (and illuminating, in a few cases).  40 years on, it’s clear to see the debt owed by today’s film magazines but I wish they had at least half as much swagger as Starburst did back in the day.

Happy birthday Starburst and thank you, for showing a young film fan the promise of a much bigger world out there.
issue 5, December 1978 (the first one I remember owning)
issue 8, March 1979 (this includes those wonderfully seedy images from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers)
issue 12, July 1979 (including a fantastic 5 page interview with the great Derek Meddings)
issue 14, September 1979
issue 22, May 1980 - this must have seen my first brush with David Cronenberg (never heard him described as the King Of Fantasy before...)
issue 23, June 1980 (in which John Brosnan reviews Empire thoroughly - he wasn't overly keen, especially on it being open-ended.)
issue 24, July 1980 - Star Wars, Alfred Hitchcock AND Caroline Munro?  Wow!  The Hitchcock appreciation by Tony Crawley is wonderful and the Mark Hamill and Caroline Munro interviews are interesting.
issue 33, April 1981 - what a terrific cover!  And nice to see David Cronenberg has been promoted to the King of Horror!)
issue 34, May 1981
issue 40, November 1981 - I love the juxtaposition of this cover, the incredible bloodiness of American Werewolf (which I wrote about here) alongside Disney.  Would a print magazine get away with that cover now?
issue 51, October 1982 - not a big fan of the new logo
issue 52, November 1982, the one I found at the bring-and-buy sale
issue 53, December 1982 (Tony Crawley, whose writing and style I liked, wrote the terrific biography The Steven Spielberg story", published in July 1983, which I read a lot)
issue 61, August 1983 - probably one of the last issues I bought

scans from my collection except issue 1 from Dez Skinn

Dez Skinn on Starburst
Starburst at Crivens! Comics & Stuff


  1. Replies
    1. Great stuff! Didn't see too many Starlog issues until I found Fangoria and that newsagent stocked loads of great titles.

  2. If I remember correctly, Mark, part of the deal for Dez working for Marvel was them actually BUYING Starburst from him, and continuing to publish it. It was a great title in its day.

    1. I wondered. I loved it, back in the day, but haven't read it in years.