Prepare to guffaw and giggle your way through the all-new Cor!! & Buster Humour Special from the Treasury of British Comics – out on 17th April!
Taking the greatest comedy characters British comics has to offer, the new special bring old favourites into the 21st Century and is guaranteed to raise a smile!
Amongst the talent bringing the fun back to funny comics is John Freeman and Lew Stringer, with their strip “Who’s In Charge?”, featuring a hilarious host of comics’ greatest editors (including a certain Tharg The Mighty) to work out just who is responsible for putting the comic together!
John Freeman: I wrote “Who’s in Charge” drawn by Lew Stringer and threw a lot of artists and writer names at Keith Richardson as he was putting it together – too many for one comic, but hopefully there will be many more! It’s very much “classic” Fleetway, but with appropriate wackiness from a lover of Sparky (ssh!) and The Young Ones. Keith approached me to write a story re-introducing the classic humour comic editors like Buster, Sid and his snake Slippy, Shiner, Gus the Gorilla, Shiver and others to a new audience. I suggested Lew Stringer should draw it, because I knew he’d do a great job and throw in plenty of “sight” gags – and he, certainly, went for it!
Lew Stringer: I’ve drawn the three page ‘Who’s In Charge?’ strip, which unites many of the old lead characters from the classic funnies. Sid and Shiner are in there from Whizzer and Chips, along with Bad Penny, Gus Gorilla, Cheeky, and many more. A lot of characters, and I added a few more too in the form of brief cameos. Even Weary Willie and Tired Tim are in one panel; characters who first appeared in Illustrated Chips in 1896. I usually write my own material but it was so much fun to work with John on this.
With these classic characters, we’re talking about taking on the mantle of some of the very best of British, genuine comics legends, such as Leo Baxendale, Ked Reid and so many more. Was there any trepidation on your parts to get things just right?
LS: Yes, even though I’ve worked in comics for 35 years it was still a bit daunting to be handling such vintage characters. It was also a real buzz though, to draw characters such as Bad Penny that I read as a kid in the 1960s. Smash! was my favourite comic so it was great to bring her back.
JF: Not really, to be honest, I just wrote it how I remembered them, even if I didn’t remember the name of Slippy (thanks, Lew!). It helps that I’m incredibly ancient and actually read a lot of the comics the first time around.
How did you balance bringing your own twist or something new to the strips and yet still being true to the spirit of the originals?
JF: The editors featured in ‘Who’s In Charge?’ are pretty much as older readers will remember them, to be honest – there was no need to update them, but I did unsettle them by having Bad Penny be an integral part of the story. You never know when a Bad Penny will turn up! And Lew added plenty of smashing cameos by characters Rebellion now own, dating right back to the early twentieth century. It’s great to see Tom Thug in it, for example.
LS: I’ve tried to adapt the original styles as closely as possible but with so many characters having been created by various artists it would have looked distracting to ghost those individual styles too closely. In the end the strip is basically in my style but the characters are still recognisable.
Lew, you’re not only contributing art for the Special, but the illustrated look at the characters and the comics they came from. What were the limitations on that?
LS: I had a limit of 350 words to play with so there was only room to mention the character, the comics they originated from, and the years they appeared. It would have been nice if the illustrations had carried small credits but I didn’t know which panels they’d be using to illustrate the feature. Old British comics would often replace artists so, for example, I could have mentioned that Mike Lacey drew Shiver and Shake but the chosen panels were by Terry Bave so it’d just end up confusing the readers.
With the Treasury of British Comics, we’re seeing a great number of very important works being brought back into print. What do you think of what’s been done thus far and what are you particularly looking forward to seeing?
JF: I’m really pleased that we’re seeing both boys and girls strips republished. Again, being incredibly old, I’m looking forward to seeing the return of Steel Claw at some point (perhaps sooner than anyone thinks). Robot Archie, too. The line has delivered a great mix of strips so far – Leopard from Lime Street, Faceache, Misty, Fran of the Floods, Monster – just to name a few!
LS: I think Rebellion have done a terrific job on the books. I’ve bought most of them, as I didn’t hold onto a lot of the 1970s comics back then, or in the case of the girls’ comics, had never read those stories. Those old strips had a nice clarity to the writing and artwork that’s sometimes lost in modern comics. It’s refreshing to read stories that stuck to the point instead of the drama being diluted by characters indulging in glib banter. I’d like to see more humour collections, and some really vintage stuff from the first half of the 20th Century. That said I doubt there’s a big enough market for reprints of 1930s material but there might be some way to make it feasible. Artists like Roy Wilson and Basil Reynolds deserve to be remembered.
JF: A comic like the Cor!! & Buster Special isn’t for the people who bought Buster back in 1975. It’s only going to do well if the mix of strips appeals to the audience that are buying Beano, which has constantly updated itself and is now selling around 48,000 copies a week. That’s been done without too many free gifts, polybagged issues etc and all credit to the team and the creators working on it… but a bit of well put together competition won’t hurt on the news stand. We all rise together!
LS: There are currently loads of magazines on the stands for children but so few of them carry any comic strips because publishers don’t want the expense of producing them. That’s why the Cor!! Buster Special is so important. A comic that is actually full of comics!
Children still love comic strips… if they get the chance to see them! I’m currently reprinting my old Combat Colin strips from the 1980s and kids as well as people who used to read them back in the day are buying the comics. Comics boosted my reading ability when I was a child, and that’s true for many of us in the business. Comics are a very important way to engage children into reading and we really need to encourage that by getting more comics onto the stands.
Now, you’ve both been mainstays of the British comics industry for many years, but how did it all begin for you?
JF: I’ve been drawing comics since I was in short trousers decades ago but moved into writing and editing, first with fanzines and a strips such as The Really Heavy Greatcoat with Nick Miller. Marvel editor Richard Starkings liked what I did and got me through the door there and I’ve never looked back. Well, I have, but only just in case Frankie Stein is coming up the street! I’ve worked in comics publishing for over 30 years now, working on a ton of stuff including digital comics and running a literature festival (The Lakes International Comics Festival). You’ll find my name in incredibly old issues of Real Ghostbusters, Overkill, Doctor Who Magazine – which is 40 this year! – Star Trek Magazine, Lucky Bag Comic… and I’m doing my own stuff now, such as the SF strip “Crucible” with former ABC Warriors artist Smuzz (SMS).
LS: I initially created my own fanzines and mini comics in the late 1970s/early 1980s that gave me time to develop my style and gain constructive feedback. Then… lots of rejections until Marvel UK gave me a chance doing one-off cartoons in The Daredevils comic, and that led to more work for various publishers and I’ve never stopped since. I’m, basically, self-taught, although I did work as an assistant to Mike Higgs (creator of Moonbird) for a few months until I gained regular freelance work in 1984. I’ve created humour strips for all the major UK comics publishers on titles such as The Beano, Viz, Buster, Oink!, Toxic, Doctor Who Magazine and loads more. I’ve been fortunate in that throughout my career I’ve earned a living exclusively in comics, so I’ve never ventured into storyboarding or advertising.