Pooch says 'Welcome to Toonhound!'TheHound - an irregular round up of toon news and chatter from the uk

  ...cartoon news interviews and views from the UK!  Union Jack


  british toon
  news & chatter
  animated films
  & shorts

  animated series

  animation studios

  & people

  string, hand
  & finger puppets

  characters, strips
  & comic books

  british animators
  & illustrators



  Click here for Frankie Stein... Click here for Fungus...
   Click here for Bunty...  Click here for Wallace...






 The Fleetway interviews #3

The Hound presents a Q&A with artist Mark Bennington...

    In May 2002 The Hound had a fortuitous natter with artist and writer
    Mark Bennington. We talked about his Fleetway days, and about
    Lucky Bags Comic, which was just about to launch in the UK...

   Memory Banks - star of Whizzer & Chips
A Memorable CV    Talking Fleetway        
Mark's cartoon          Mark fills in the details about his   
career...                   Fleetway days and beyond... 


    The Savers    
Blub The Sub

    Mark Bennington started working for Fleetway in 1985, and he stayed on the
    team through into the 1990's and that awkward final decade of reprints, rehashes
    and reduced staff numbers until the comics' demise in 1999. His first work
    appeared in the 1985 Whoopee! Summer Special. This proved to be a springboard
    onto a stint drawing his most well-known strip, that brain-less, slipper-less soul
    known as Memory Banks - a fondly-remembered star of Whizzer & Chips,
    and later Buster. He also held the pen for those Nipper-come-Buster stars
    The Savers, and Blub The Sub. In and around these strips came his scripts
    for the Buster strips (1986-1990), Chalky, and X-Ray Specs and spells writing
    for Sweet Tooth and the ever-scrunging Faceache....

    In the 90's, with Buster now the sole-survivor, Mark created, wrote and
    illustrated one-time cover star Captain Crucial, and picked up the pen on Lucy
    Lastic, Stupid Street, Judge Dudd, and Buster's messed-up pals Dozy Derek,
    Brainsly Smartpants, The Fat Pack and Delbert, who hogged the coverted
    centre-page spread during the 1990's...

      Memory Banks - star of Whizzer & Chips    A Quavers ad drawn by Mark

    After a couple of years engrossed in advertizing and pr work, Mark's now
    returning to strip work with the launch of Lucky Bags Comic. You're familiar
    with Lucky Bags, right? - They're those goodie bags of sweets and candies
    you find on sale all over British High-Streets, in shops like Woolworths.
    There are numerous variants out there, some based on classic toon stars
    like Scooby-Doo and The Simpsons, others with the likes of Dick Turtle
    on the front. It certainly makes sense to add an all-new selection of comic
    strip stars to the mix. And whilst it's still not the Big Return to classic
    comic weeklies of the past that so many of us yearn for, it still sounds
    like being a Big Step in the right direction...

    Here Mark details his Fleetway CV, reveals his 'crucial' contribution to
    comics history, opens up a Lucky Bag Comic for us and rattles a few
    ghostly skeletons from those final days at Fleetway H.Q....


Memory Banks again 

    As is so often the case, it was Mark who found me via the site. Our email
    exchanges quickly developed into the Q&A below. Regular visitors here
    will be familiar with the pattern of discussion. I always like to start things
    at their proper place, right back at the beginning...


    So let's begin at the beginning, how did you get into comics,
    did you work your way through from college or university..?

    Although I got straight 'A's in Art 'o' and 'a' level I never went to art college.
    I drifted into cartooning a few years after leaving school and being
    unemployed (early '80's were dark times man). I got a strip printed in a
    local paper and then mailed tons of ideas off to every paper imaginable
    in hope...

    So you were a comics fan, then...

    I always had a backburning desire to be a cartoonist I guess. I used to
    doodle and draw up my own comics when I was about 9 - 11, and I was
    an avid reader of most of the Fleetway stuff. My favourite comic was
    probably Sparky, though... I read MAD comic too - and admired Don Martin's
    stuff - he could get funny ideas across without any words, which is very tough.
    In Fleetway and Beano Tom Paterson is the main man. I improved my own
    art skills by writing scripts for Tom's work and studying the finished article...

    How did the Fleetway job come about?

    I had gotten into Fleetway by joining an agent - King Leo Studios - and then
    bombarding them with ideas for most of 1984-85. Apparently most people
    give up after one letter...

    You scripted for many Fleetway strips. How did the system work?

    Scriptwise you were allocated a number of characters to write for - these
    would be rotated from time to time between different writers to keep things
    fresh. I was on Buster's lead strip for about 4 years , Chalky 2... I wrote the
    centre spread for about 10-11 I think and was given pretty much a free reign
    on that...whatever fell out of my brain... You were paid per script - on approval.
    There were no written contracts... There were many writers (unsure exactly
    how many...). We were all scattered over the UK scribbling away in our own
    little worlds. And there were about 12 or so artists on Buster itself, although
    this dropped down to just three of us in the last years...

    How advanced was the schedule - were you given much
    turnaround time?

    You worked at least 8 weeks in advance. Most characters had a set basic
    idea to adhere to although I expanded Chalky into an eccentric artist type
    for more scope. You could do that within reason. We were allowed to get
    a bit 'ruder' in the latter years but dangerous stuff was still edited - if they
    thought readers could copy it for instance...

    So tell me more about your main characters, Memory Banks and
    Captain Crucial...

    Memory Banks was created by Bob Paynter who was the editor of Buster
    pre-mid 80's - I believe he created a number of the earlier characters too.
    I created Captain Crucial as the very first of the centre spread crazies. He
    was considered quite contemporary - a crusader for cool - annihilator of
    naffness. The Buster editor, Allen Cummings (1986-1999) once leaked
    to me that Crucial was on the verge of his own title, maybe a special first,
    but it fell through. Actually, Allen was a great editor ,very open to new ideas.

    Prior to this Q&A you mentioned John Aldrich, who was he?

    John Aldrich bubbled most of Buster's stories for years - by hand - cutting
    the bubbles out individually for adhesion to an over cel. He was also an
    excellent artist. I think he got a strip in the Daily Record after Buster...

    Your were working at Fleetway during the final years of the weeklies,
    what was it like, can you fill in some of the gruesome detail...?

     The demise of Buster was on the cards for years. First Whizzer & Chips
     went, then the summer specials..annuals... and the contribution staff were
     gradually being whittled down to the last few. I went third last. Just the cover
     artist and the letters page guy - J Edward Oliver (JEO) - were left. It finally
     bowed out at the end of 1999, but I don't have the exact date to hand. It had
     all-but gone a year earlier, surviving only on reprints and the odd special story
     - Easter, Halloween. The final few reprint issues were hard to come by...

     So what happened, had the market died?

     There was still a market but the new owners of Fleetway - Egmont- put all
      their money into licensed stuff - TV and film link titles. I wrote most of Ace
      Ventura when he was around for a year...they come and go these licensed
      ones. They cut down Buster's budget year after year, so it eventually had
      no choice but to go all reprint. BVC (Big Value Comic) was around for a
      while with Fleetway reprints. This was sponsored by Anchor Big Top and
      I wrote and drew the only new strip in there - Mr Squirty (Anchor's logo

     Have you kept in touch with any of your Fleetway colleagues?

     I have no contact with Fleetway now. All the old staff and editors have gone.
     It would be nice to think the Fleetway stuff could be revived... Bob Paynter
     (former Buster ed) moved into Puzzle Books and used to use some old
     Fleetway strips in Fun And Games, Kid's Puzzler and the like. The Beano
     survived by investing in new media - it went on to video, tv products, etc
     and now the comic seems to stem from the tv cartoon of Dennis...

     So the burning question is, what happened to the original strip
     artwork once the weeklies had folded?

     Periodically the originally artwork would be dumped for lack of storage,
     unless reclaimed by artists - I have some of mine - or office staff were
     allowed to take it. The original art now exists only on print cels or
     computer disk...

     Speaking of computers, has the PC-bug bitten you?

     I still use ink, actually - though mainly fibretip now as everybody wants
     everything so fast these days. I use a pc for colouring, again for speed. I hope
     to set up a website in the near future...

     Now let's move on. What have you been doing since the Fleetway days?

     For the last few years I've done mainly marketing illustration for pr
     companies... Press release cartoons to highlight new products or campaigns...
     No-Smoking Day booklets... That sort of thing... Illustrated books for Wimbledon
     Publishing... Gift books... Academic books.. 'A Tourist's Guide to the British'
     and 'The Patient English'....

     And now there's Lucky Bags Comic...

     My first foray into comic work for about 2 and a half years!!

     A Fleetway-style comic, isn't it?

     Lucky Bags is a very traditional style comic - a la Buster - using the
     characters that have illustrated the front of the various Lucky Bags over
     the years. I am writing and drawing Jungle Jane, Captain Krook and
     Fission Chips - an eco warrior, last of the pirates, and a child genius.
     (actually, Fission is a reincarnation of Clever Dick). I've just finished the
     first pages for issue one, to be published by Toontastic on June 29th'ish....

And Lucky Bags was duly published, with great success, because it's still
     going strong today. Joining Mark on the project was another former Fleetway
     artist Lew Stringer, famous for Combat Colin and Tom Thug. Joe Matthews,
     Ian Rimmer and Nigel Kitching wwere also onboard that first issue.

     Lucky Bags Comic was/is an interesting development in the world of comics.
     As Mark himself said at the time:

     'Strange how in the 'old' days you used to get sweets and toys free
      with your comic, and now the comics are coming with the sweets and
      the gifts...they had to pay us back sometime...'

     - Till next time!

Pooch again!     thehound@toonhound.com    

© IPC/Fleetway/ Mark Bennington except the Quavers ad   / F2000-2004