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 The Fleetway interviews #1


  Back in 2002 Trevor Metcalfe, cartoonist, artist, illlustrator and web-designer
  talked about his Fleetway comics past and his plans for a digital future...

     Sweet Tooth
The Fleetway Days
The ins and outs of working for Fleetway...

Trevortoons, past and present

His 'Dandy' past, his web-based future...

The Future
So where to now...?

Presenting a gallery of some of Trevor's
early w
ork, The Ossies, some strip stars
and a couple of surprises...


    Trevor Metcalfe has been cartooning on a full-time basis for nigh-on 30 years.
    In the 70's and 80's he was a member of that select group of artists who toiled
    away, week in week out, producing strips for a bunch of classsic comic
    weeklies. In those days the two main publishers, Fleetway and DC Thomson,
    were printing a dozen titles or more fun comic titles every seven days. Trevor
    worked on strips for Shiver & Shake, Whoopee!, Whizzer & Chips, Cor!!,
    Krazy Comic, Monster Fun and more. He also drew strips for Fleetway's
    Mickey Weekly. Nowadays, of course there's just The Beano and The Dandy
    and Trevor still draws for the latter, but the comics void is now filled with
    licensed 'tie-in' publications, and 'lifestyle' magazines for the young adult -
    it's just not the same.

    Cartoonists have had to adapt to a new world without those traditional comics,
    a world where pen and ink too is almost redundant. Trevor says that he has 
    taken to a tablet and monitor like a duck to water. He now produces images
    and gifs for a variety of web-based clients. He also works on a bi-monthly
    Ronald McDonald comic strip for McDonald's, and right now he's in talks to 
    develop a terrific new strip of his called Clown Town as an online publication -
    you can see plenty of examples of his current toon work on his Trevortoons

     J.R. - Junior Rotter  Greedy Greg  Sweet Tooth again
    I'm not sure if Trevor realises quite how important his contribution to comics
    history has been. At the time, those fun weeklies seem to have been regarded
    as throwaway concoctions by their publishers. Artists were given a pretty raw
    deal, with all copyright assigned to their employers, strips being interchanged,
    dropped and swopped at will, and reprint fees merely a magic lamp perched on
    the top of an unassailable pinnacle. But these comics have proven to be
    much more precious than that, and Trevor and his colleagues' cartoon art
    inhabited our young lives for far longer than the current tv or pop fads that fill
    the media for kids today. Those fun comics were posted through our mailboxes
    for 52 weeks a year, they filled the lower shelves in your newsagent and popped
    up in annual form, regular as clockwork in your Xmas pressie pile. They were
    part of the background noise of being a kid in the 60's, 70's and 80's. Trevor
    Metcalfe drew Sweet Tooth and Greedy Greg. He drew Jasper The Grasper,
    Birdman & Chicken, Ghoul Getters, Town Tarzan and Junior Rotter - strips that
    a generation of twenty and thirty-somethings still fondly recall and, indeed,
    continue to collect such was and is their hold. They've touched an awful lot
    of people through the years!...


    Mr Metcalfe 

    Funnily enough, Trevor actually talked to me before I talked to him. He made
    contact via Fleetway St. to confirm the artist's credit on Damsel In Distress
    (a Shiver & Shake strip). I'd suspected he was behind this fun toon, but didn't
    want to put a credit online without confirmation. After an email exchange he
    kindly agreed to this Q&A and furnished me with a bunch of great images,
    which I've posted as part of these special Fleetway Interview pages. Anyway,
    we began on familiar Toonhound turf, with the Fleetway comics...



   Your web site says you started working for Fleetway in 1972.
   How did that first break come about?

   Actually it was 1965 in Buster comic. I had a half page strip called Our Great
   Grandpa , which was my own creation, but scripts were 'roughed-out' scribbles
   by Roy Davies. These things were almost impossible to turn into workable
   finished artwork, but WOW! - What a training! I remember vividly one awful script.
   Grandpa, dressed in a Victorian-style striped swimming costume, had to trip
   over at the edge of the road, fall across it, then two women, each with a pram
   had to trundle over him, mistaking him for a new pedestrian crossing! All the
   scripts were like that and I had very mixed feelings about the whole set-up.
   I was thrilled to have my work printed, yet I hated what I was producing!
   However, I was only cartooning part-time in '65, I had a full-time job in the
   printing trade as a Litho artist. It wasn't until 1972 that I went full-time as
   a freelance cartoonist.

   And what was the first strip you worked on as a full-timer?

   Jasper The Grasper, the original creation of Ken Reid and a hard act to follow.
   Within a matter of weeks I was offered another page. A list of potential comic
   strip characters names were read out to me over the phone and I picked
   Sweet Tooth as the one I'd enjoy to develop from scratch. The Greedy Greg
   character was my own idea to give the story lines a bit of a 'kick-start'.
   In fact, early on, I wrote many of the scripts myself, worried that Roy Davies
   might start doing 'em! - Thankfully this never happened, and several writers
   worked on Sweet Tooth over the years. At least 90% of the Sweet Tooth
   strips were drawn by me.

   So how did things work - were ideas for new strips farmed out
   from Fleetway House to you, or indeed, was it a mixture of both?

   All the strip ideas and most of the scripts came from the Editor's office to me.
   Other artists may have had other arrangements, I don't know. The only
   exception in my case was The Amazing Three (Jackpot) which was my
   own total concept, and I think I wrote about 98% of the scripts too.

   The Fleetway artists were often took over strips from each other -
   as you did with Jasper The Grasper. How come? Was there ever
   resentment from the strip's former artist?

   Yes, I took over Jasper from Ken Reid. I was told he didn't
    want to do it anymore. I have no idea if he resented me or not.

   Can you tell us about the production process. How far
   in advance were strips greenlighted?

   It was usual to be four weeks ahead of publication date.

   And how many weekly strips were you producing, at your peak?


   Do you have a particular favourite strip from the Fleetway days?
   And, similarly, was there one strip which caused you more grief
   than the rest, amd why?

   I drew Mickey's Magic for the Fleetway published Mickey Mouse Comic,
   but the comic was short lived, unfortunately. I think I did eighteen two page
   sets.The last few Mickey's Magic sets before the comic's demise were
   not mine. Someone else took over as I was in hospital and, of course,
   couldn't work. See my rather lengthy description earlier about Our Great
   Grandpa, if you want to re-cap my 'grief!'

   I loved Jasper The Grasper. There seemed to be a conscious
   effort to develop his character - You didn't see that, as a rule, in
   the Fleetway strips - We had references to his extended
   family and had him dating people and such. The look of Olde
   Cortown was superb, you really peopled the locale with specific
   shops and places and mocked the period beautifully - Again, not
   that common in the funnies...

    I always did my best with the artwork side of things, but the way the
    character developed in other respects was to the credit of the various

    In my Fleetway St. pages I like to pick up on sneaky panel
    details like Robert Nixon's Cor!! van, hidden in Lolly Pop. Have
    you any panel secrets you want to confess to me?

    On many occasions when a shop or two had to feature as a backdrop,
    I used to name one shop 'Mandy's', after my elder daughter.

    Ghoul Getters sometimes ran in two weekly parts, with a
    cliffhanger between them. Likewise Birdman & Chicken and
    Town Tarzan, yet I donšt recall many other Fleetway funnies
    being given the leeway to do this. Was this your idea?

     It was the Editor's idea. It was used with The Amazing Three too.

    And speaking of reprints, it's well known that the copyright on
    strips was assigned to Fleetway upon a strip's first printing. Did
    the artists receive reprint fees for all those re-appearances in
    thos Funny Fortnightly's , Big Comic, etc? - it's incredible to see
    how many times strips were brought back over that last decade...

    Reprint fees!!! -only in my wildest dreams!


    On your web site you talk about how you began selling your
    cartoons back in 1964. What kind of work were you doing?

    My first published work was two or three Smasher strips for The Dandy
    comic, trying to 'ghost' the style of the regular artist. I then got my own
    strip called The Babes'n'The Bullies, also for The Dandy.

    The Gems proved to be very popular in The Sun. You created
    the strip with Robert Nixon, whom you've been close friends with
    since your college days, I believe. The two of you share a very
    similar sense of character design and panel style. Does your work
    ever get confused?

    There are many similarities in our styles, but when you consider both our
    early influences, it's hardly surprising. One of Robert's early experiences
    was to 'ghost' the work of Ken Reid when he took over Rodger The Dodger
    in The Beano. Later on, he took over Ken's other creation, Frankie Stein for
    Fleetway. I started early on to 'ghost' Ken's work too, when I drew Jasper
    The Grasper. I'm sure our work has never been confused, but more than
    one editor over the years has asked me to 'stand-in' for Robert from time to
    time, and I've tried to make my stuff look like his as much as possible.

    You refer to your first influences from the Archie Comics, and
    your admiration for colleagues like Leo Baxendale and Reg
    Parlett. Are there any newcomers whose work particularly
    excites you?

    I don't buy comics myself, but I love the look and the humour of
    The Simpsons on TV.

    Nowadays there are fewer and fewer outlets for strip cartoonists,
    now that we no longer have weekly comics. It must be hugely
    frustrating for professionals like yourself....

    One can't vegetate or rest on one's laurels! You have to move on,
    learn new things and beaver on. Anyway, I don't consider myself
    only as a strip cartoonist.

    Have you ever tried to get your own comic off the ground,
    maybe in collaboration with your fellow cartoonists?

    I would never even consider such a risky venture!

    Having said that, at Trevortoons you talk about how you've moved
    into computer-based work, can you tell me more about that?

    Yes, since I taught myself how to use the leading graphics programmes on
    my Macintosh computer, ALL my work is produced digitally. My trusty inkpens
    etc. are tucked away in a drawer, out of sight and ( mostly ) out of mind!
    I still do a strip in The Dandy comic, that's in most weeks. It's called
    Growing Paynes. The strip is drawn on-screen, using a WACOM tablet and
    Adobe Photoshop. I like to use Adobe Illustrator for Ronald McDonald And
    Friends. This is a twelve page free comic, produced about six times a year.
    The colour is done in Photoshop, and the finished pages are e-mailed in to
    the client. I think this is the way all comics will be done eventually.

    And now there's Clown Town. Can you tell us more?

    To date it has never been published, but one company has expressed an
    interest in buying it for part of an 'entertainment' website. I have several ready,
    both in CMYK format and as web-safe gifs. I'll let you know when it takes off.

    Finally, have you a particular favourite cartoon creation still
    lurking in your portfolio, which for some reason has just never
    made it into print?




    As a footnote to the above Q&A, Trevor added this summary of his future
    plans and artistic ambitions:

     'I intend to continue cartooning, mixing it a bit with the more
     'serious' illustration work that I've been doing of late. These are
     education 'aids' in the comic strip format, a little simple 2D cell
     animation and corporate greetings cards. I'm glad I went digital
     when I did, just as a lot of comics ceased publication. The name
     of the game is diversification these days. Also, there's a lot of
     competition out there, so I keep a few cards close to my chest!

     Regards to all comic enthusiasts who've managed to read this far.

     Also, thanks to Toonhound. Keep smiling, Trevor.'


   So there you have it, some most welcome information from the great Mr Metcalfe.
   This was my first Fleetway St. inteview and at the time I had no idea how
   things would snowball. Don't forget that there gallery of Trevor's Toons, eh?
   You'll also find plenty more info on Trevor and his cartooning career at his
   Trevortoons website:


   And of course, there's that ever-expanding index of Fleetway comics and strips
   here at Toonhound. Fleetway St continues to prosper and now details more
   than 100 fun strips...

    - Getting there!


all art copyright Trevor Metcalfe/Fleetway/IPC  / F2000-2004