Radio Drama
Science Faction

"Stand By For Mars!"

An Interview with Martin Arlt

Martin Arlt has a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics, and publishes the print fanzine, Mad Scientist.

Mad Scientist Homepage

You actually are a scientist (a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics). What were your viewing and reading habits as a child. Did they influence your desire to become a scientist? As a kid, I pretty much devoured anything that was SF, fantasy, or horror. Every Sunday morning, I would take the TV listings for the coming week out of the paper and scour them for any genre movie I could find. Big favorites were the original King Kong, the Universal monsters, Godzilla, and pretty much anything with dinosaurs in it. Surprisingly, despite my immersion in SF, it really had little to do with my career choice. I was Pre-Med in college until I took a Genetics course. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go the research route instead of medicine.

Of your scientific colleagues - do any have the same passion for SF movies or books? While comic books seem to be fairly popular among my colleagues, I haven?t really encountered as much interest in SF movies. I think the subject matter is a little to close to what we do for a living, and since the movies usually get it horribly wrong, a lot of scientists have trouble suspending their disbelief. I?ve found the further away from true SF a movie gets, the more likely it will be embraced by scientists. So things like Star Wars tend to be more popular than, say, Jurassic Park.

Your first Mad Scientist issue was published in May, 2000. Please explain how this publication came about. I've always had a drive to create, whether comics or films or games. For most of my life, I've created comics, mostly for my own enjoyment. Even when I started reading and subscribing to fanzines like G-Fan and Japanese Giants, it never really dawned on me to create my own zine.

Then I read a book by Bill Schelly called The Golden Age of Comics Fandom, which chronicled the early years of comics fanzines. I never knew how much fan activity there was, and I recall wishing I had known about them when they were at their height.

At some point, it just struck me that maybe it wasn't too late for me to be involved, and that I could try doing my own zine. The only thing standing in my way was the thought that I wouldn't be able to fill or financially support a big, magazine-sized zine. Then I ordered copies of Mark Jiro Okui's zine, Calling Monster Island. This was a fun and very solid zine, but it was digest-sized, a format I hadn't really considered. This was a format that wouldn't break the bank to produce. And that's what finally made me commit to producing my own fanzine.

a) Why call it Mad Scientist (perhaps obvious, but...) I have pretty eclectic hobby tastes, ranging from comics to Godzilla to stop motion to gaming. As anyone with such varied tastes will tell you, my enthusiasm for any particular subject waxes and wanes from month to month. I wanted a title that didn't lock me into a given subject matter. One of the first titles I thought of was just "Monsterzine." After a short time, I decided that I didn"t want to be limited to writing about monsters, and decided to go with something more all-inclusive. When Mad Scientist popped into my head, I realized I had to go with that one. It was sufficiently generic to cover a number of topics, but also was relevant to my own career choices.

b) Who did the writing - did you recruit friends, etc. When I started, I wrote and drew everything myself. After a few issues, I started getting submissions from other people. Mainly art, at first, but soon I was getting the occasional article. Mad Scientist has managed to get a slightly higher profile since I went to color covers and received a Rondo Award nomination. That has helped me to attract writers who stand out a bit above the average fan. That being said, I still welcome any and all submissions!

c) How was it published - xeroxed? Since I was reproducing photographs, I wanted to stay away from photocopies. While not the most cost-effective technique, I went with printing out the pages on my own laser printer. It's more expensive than photocopying, but the end results were much nicer. But then I also ended up collating and stapling the issues by hand, which is not a fun process!

d) Where did you advertise it? Online, mostly. Mad Scientist was a pretty low-budget affair, and the internet was a free venue. I also sent out copies to publications that I read, like G-Fan and Comics Buyers Guide, which gave me some free publicity in the form of reviews. I also used some free advertising coupons I had accumulated to advertise in Comics Buyers Guide. In retrospect, I would have been better off if I had sent out more review copies to the various fanzine publishers out there, since they had already tapped into my target audience.

e) How many issues printed? Since I was assembling the issues by hand, I limited the print runs to 100 copies.

Was your plan always to have it semi-annual? At first I had lofty goals of publishing it quarterly. That idea went out the window fast, but I still hoped to get three issues out per year. In the end, the semi-annual schedule worked best for me, given the workload for each issue.

Regardless of what the schedule was, I very much wanted to publish regularly. It was always disappointing to me when I would find an outstanding 'zine that only published one issue every couple of years. So far, I've been able to keep on a fairly regular schedule, with new issues in November and May, give or take a few weeks.

How has the magazine changed through the last 6 years? I would say that for the first 5 years, it didn't really change a whole lot, other than, I hope, getting a little better and more polished. In the last year, I moved to color covers and professional printing, which has really helped draw attention to the book. But even that is just a format change. The contents have remained relatively unchanged the whole time. Each issue contains an in-depth look at a genre film, a comic book-related article, a "Tales from the Lab" strip, reviews, etc.

As for the ads I've run, those aren't paid ads. ComiXpress is my printer, and if I include their ad, my printing costs go down a bit. As for any other ads you see, those are usually there as a "thank you" for contributors. For example, the McFarland book ad in issue 15 was for a book written by Allan Debus, who wrote an article for me in that issue. Since I can't really pay contributors, I try at least to promote their other stuff!

I don't have any official distribution, although there are a few comic shops and book stores around the country that carry Mad Scientist.

Why are all those early issues sold out! Couldn't you do zerox copies for new fans? All those early issues were printed on a laser printer, collated and stapled by me. That's a lot of work for one person. Early on, I decided to limit the print run to a manageable number so that I could spend my time working on new issues rather than assembling old ones.

But, as Mad Scientist got more popular, those back issues started selling out. I've gotten a lot of requests for those issues recently, and I am in the planning stages of creating a trade paperback reprint of selected articles from the first ten issues.

The main thing that?s slowing down that project is deciding how much I want to update the material. Since I wouldn't be limited by page count, I could expand on some article that got trimmed for length, or include more photos. Of course, the other trick is finding the time to work on the trade without getting in the way of the new issues.

What have you learned in publishing by putting out this magazine, and do you have any tips for fellow enthusiasts who might want to publish a fanzine. The best tip I have for anyone wanting to publish a fanzine is to just get started. You don't need expensive design software packages to design a page. When I got started, I just used Word, and to this day that's still the program I use the most. Copy shops can be found all over the place, making the physical act of printing up a 'zine almost a non-issue. Not to mention the fact that there are more and more printing services available online.

Your comic strip "Tales from the Lab." How long does it take you to draw/ink all those panels! A three-page strip usually takes about 7-8 hours, spread out over a week or so, although the time spent working on it varies dramatically from panel to panel. Panels that just feature my cartoon head are pretty quick. In fact, when I'm penciling the strip, I draw barely more than an oval to represent my head. I've done it long enough now that I do most of the drawing in ink. Backgrounds and other references are another matter.

For example, issue 15's "Tales from the Lab" featured a look at model kits. I based my laboratory/dungeon on Aurora's Monster Scenes kits, including several that never got past the design stage. Laying out and combining elements from the different kits in a way that would be recognizable for those familiar with the kits, but not distracting for those who aren't, took quite a long time.

One funny aside about "Tales from the Lab". I draw a cartoon version of myself in each strip. After about two years, I noticed that my cartoon self had his hair parted on the wrong side. I guess my image of myself is based on what I see in the mirror. Since I had already done two years of strips, I decided to just leave it that way.

"Tales from the Lab" is a regular feature in Mad Scientist. It was a bit of self-indulgence on my part when I started, creating a strip that was essentially me reliving bits of my childhood. Surprisingly, it has become one of my most popular features. For whatever reason, it seems people like to read about my experiences growing up.

As for the rest of the contents from issue to issue, I don't tend to plan too far in advance. I go wherever my enthusiasm takes me. I don't want to be in the position where I scheduled an article on Universal's Dracula, but when the time comes to write it, I'm more enthusiastic about some 1950s SF films. This isn't really a paying gig, so I don't want to write about things I'm not interested in at the time. The same thing holds true for my reviews. I don't have a lot of space, and I'd rather not take up that space revisiting things I didn't like. I'd rather promote items that I enjoyed and that I think other people might enjoy.

What's planned for the next issue? Plans? In this seat-of-the-pants operation?? Actually, I'm just now working out the contents. I am starting a series of articles reviewing the original Doctor Who series, season by season. I've got a history of the Aurora monster models in mind, as well. I'm still not sure what movie will be the cover feature, but I think I've narrowed it down to either Them! or Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. When I sit down to start writing it, it will probably come down to which one I?m more interested in watching at the time. Allen Debus, who wrote issue 15's article on Edgar Rice Burroughs, tells me he's working on something for me as well.

The biggest plans for Mad Scientist, though, are another format change. After seven years, I'm considering finally abandoning the digest-sized format to go with a full-size magazine. This should do a couple of things for me. First and foremost, I can stop using microscopic font sizes for my text. It will also give me more flexibility with page layouts. The extra page real estate will also mean I'll have more content in each issue, so I''l probably start soliciting contributions more aggressively.

And on a scientific you think man will ever get to Mars? Or populate the asteroid belt or our oceans? Well, "ever" is a long time. I certainly think we can and will make it to Mars eventually, hopefully within the next 20 years. Maybe one of the Mars Rovers will find something that will get the public excited enough to get behind a project like that. I'd certainly like to see it.

As for the asteroid belt, that's harder to say. It's certainly an awfully dangerous place, with literally tons of material floating about. I could see a visit to the asteroids someday, but I think populating it with any kind of permanent outpost unlikely.

Now, the oceans are another story. We already have the technology to do that, and it's a lot easier to get materials into the ocean than into space. Assuming you're asking about outposts underneath the ocean, rather than on top, I suspect it would be limited to scientific or industrial endeavors, along with the occasional tourist attraction, rather than any kind of civilian settlement.

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