Steve Maher is probably best known for his Sci-fi
and Rock art endeavours.
He created some of the iconic Rock imagery of the late
70s/early 80s , like
the Global Jukebox used to promote Live Aid, posters for
the Reading Rock
Festival, and art used by Status Quo, Iron Maiden,
The Tubes, AC/DC,
Motorhead and many others. His work featured lots
of airbrushed chrome,
futuristic robots and monumental structures - quintessentially
80s in feel
and style. Indeed, many of pieces can be found in those
art compilations of the period by Paper Tiger.
Today Steve lives and works Down Under, in Australia.
But he's a Brit by
birth and actually spent the formative years of his career
of a London based art agency. In fact, he started out
'ghosting' strips for
Fleetway/IPC back in the early 1970's, where he brought us
the likes of
'Clever Dick', 'Wallies Weirdies', 'Pete's Pockets', 'Sweeny
'Super Dad'. For DC
Thomson he ghosted 'Billy Whizz', and 'Jimmy Jinx' .
In time this multitalented fellow quickly moved on to tooning
his own strips
too, not only for Fleetway but for DC Thomson and Polystyle.
'Brian's Bike' for the Fleetway fun comics, 'The Galactic
2000ad, 'The Incredible Bulk' and 'Captain Caveman' for TV
many more besides.
Steve talks about his cartoon past and airbrushed future, his move
to Australia and his web work for SMILE.
Plus, he presents us with
a super gallery of some of his classic
During the heady days of comics past, during the 70s and 80s
were tight and strip work was plentiful and demanding, many
of the artists found
themselves 'ghosting' strips for their colleagues. Even
topflight toonsters would
participate, drawing strips in the style of the regular
artist for a week-or-two to
cover holidays, illness, or absenteeism. In fact, it was
such a necessary fact
of comics life that some almost made a career understudying
That's how Steve Maher started out. So that's where we started
our little chat.
As always, The Hound's questions are in bold...
take you back, all the way around the globe, back to the UK
and your time on the comics. I take it your first Fleetway
ghosting on 'Clever Dick' in Whizzer
indeed. Clever Dick had a shed in his back garden where he invented
crazy stuff - it was 'ghosted' for Leo Baxendale. Being my very
first tryout for
Fleetway I remember sweating for days over the damn thing as
I was so worried
about getting it correct - Leo Baxendale being a comic strip
GOD in my eyes
at that time, I just couldn't believe that I, a mere mortal,
was being trusted
with his work.
‘ghosting’ aspect of those Fleetway days is often referred to, but
never properly scrutinized, so can you tell us a little
more. How did the
There was a huge amount of ghosting happening in those days.
was very simple. The editor would just phone you up and ask if
you wanted to do
strip for a while. They would then just send you a stack of back issues
for reference and you then got your script... pretty much a factory
really, none too
romantic I'm afraid!
Still with ‘ghosting’. Were you urged to copy the
style of the lead
cartoonist on a strip, or given leeway to simply draw a strip
No. We had to get the style 'forged' almost perfectly. However
we were allowed
to introduce our own nuances - like background humour - asides
- and the like.
TV Comic, Disney and Hanna Barbera strips were the hardest to
work for as
they had really draconian rules about what you could and couldn't
Can you tell us more about 'Brian's Bike'. How did the strip
Oh, wow, yea that was a real buzz. I had been Ghosting for
Lacey for ages and suddenly I got a call from Doris White 'my
agent' to say
that 'they' (Fleetway) had offered me a chance to do a strip
of my own. I was
summoned to Fleet Street to talk to Bob Paynter, Editor bigwig
then, he offered me a chance at the gig. I was given a selection
of ideas and
asked to choose one and to come up with some initial drawings
'Brian's Bike' was a bit like 'Clever Dick' really. Brain was
a Nerdy Kid who
had built a Hi-Tek bike in his shed. This bike could fly, go
amazing telescopic wheels, and so on. But the strip just didn't
originality to keep going for long, I think there had been too
many similar ideas,
so it eventually bit the dust after about six months trial. But
it was my first
original strip and a real buzz.
I had the original strip framed on my wall for years - but alas
like many things,
it got mislaid during the move to Australia.
Were there any other specific strips that you drew on your
as (fanfare) ‘Steve Maher: Strip Cartoonist’?
I suppose TV Comics 'The Incredible Bulk' would rate as
my favourite. It was
a full colour strip and I was allowed almost complete freedom
with it. I had
a lot of fun with the main character a dopey, ugly looking little
skinny kid with
glasses, bad acne, and a hideous ginger hairdo, who's Dad was
Dad gets some chemicals accidentally mixed up with the boys sherbet
(oops-didn't see that coming). The rest is obvious. Kid eats
sherbet and turns
into this Huge Blue Bumbling Monster who get into all kind of
trouble and then
turns back into a kid again leaving him with all the mess!
also used to come up with comic inventions for Buster and Jet (I think?).
I produced my own idea for a weekly cartoon based on kids ideas.
It was a
sort of Heath Robinson borrow (another hero of mine) and
we called it
'Maniaction'. This was great fun, sometimes getting a bit close
sick humour. And then I did a whole series of crazy stuff
for 2000AD Comic
the 'Galactic Olympics.' But by this time I was moving away from
paid comic world and getting into the record cover industry.
we'll turn to shortly. But still with the comics; what materials
did you use. Did you have a favoured pen and board etc....?
I would use pencil to do the initial drawings, they would
go off for approval
then I would ink in with pen and Indian ink - a Joseph Gillott
1950 Nib I think?
The nibs were becoming hard to find even back in the 70's and
I had to buy
them in bulk from London. I would also use a series of Windsor
& Newton sable
brushes. I mostly used pressed art board (Bainbridge Board) at
first , then I
started to use CS10 Paper a bit later as it was easier to post.
You’ve reeled off a jumble of Fleetway and DC Thomson strips.
there a specific point when you moved from Fleetway to the other,
or was it a case of work for the two merging as as it came through
I started off with just Fleetway, but after a while was
actually working for them
all at the same time. They didn't know, as it wouldn't have been
wise to tell them
I was working for the competition. At one time I worked for all
three; DC Thomson,
Fleetway, Polystyle. You just had to work for as many as you
could and churn 'em
out as fast as possible as the money was so bad. DC Thomson were
by far the
'nicest - most friendly' people to work for though. They were
like a family. The
editors would take trouble to send back personal notes with your
I made friends with many of them and I loved working for them.
Fleetway was an
impersonal and hard nosed company, as was Polystyle.
So you left the comics world behind. Those Status Quo, Reading
Live Aid images are 80s rock classics - and a long way removed
your strip work. How on earth did the shift from toons to airbrushed
I have always been a big Sci-fi fan, loving the early artwork
of Chesney Bosnell
when I was a kid in the 50's. And I also loved Frank Hampson
'Dan Dare' art,
but I was too young then to draw that kind of stuff. Later I
would try to emulate
this Sci-fi art and I guess I just got better at doing it. I
had no formal art training,
I just loved to draw, and I left school at 15 to become an indentured
copper plate engraver, which I hated. This did, however, get
me day release to the
London School of Art. I did the engraving thing for 8 years.
I also got married and
had two children. But I hated my job, it wasn't art and I resented
wasted in it, and was always spending my time lampooning the
factory staff by
drawing wicked cartoon parodies of them and sticking them on
the walls. The only
thing that got me through this time was the fact that I played
guitar and sung in a
successful pub rock band. I just lived for the nights so
I could clock out, get out
of the stinking factory, and play music.
It was a much later chance (1968) reintroduction to Mike
Lacey who I knew
from schooldays (Mike had been a successful young comic strip
many years) that got me to thinking about honing my skills and
misspent talent into a living. And the truth is that if Mike
hadn't helped me then,
I may not have succeeded getting into art at all. He first introduced
me to his
agent, later helped me to develop my comic art style. At the
beginning we worked
in Fleet Street out of a Dickensian studio on the third floor
of a decrepit building.
This being the office of Link Studios our agency which was
run by Doris White,
a chain smoking, hard faced, sixty year old artists agent. There
were about fifteen
freelance comic strip artists all working in different dingy
rooms in Link Studios
and the practical jokes flowed continually. The favourite joke
was that if an artist
should happen to be at pencil stages with a strip, and went out
to lunch, Lacey
and I would sneak into his/her office and make subtle and sometimes
changes to their pencil art.
Usually they got found and fixed after a bit of name calling.
I remember one
particular time Mike made some very phallic changes to the shape
of a background
rock in a Girls Comic strip that one guy was working on, and
somehow the art got
inked in and sent off unnoticed to the publication. Much to Doris'
it wasn't noticed until after it had been printed. Needless to
say nobody owned
up to that one. ...
Much later I went on to actually team up and work with Mike
for a few very crazy
years (1977-9) sharing a studio. Mike introduced me to the airbrush
one day, he
was using one to Illustrate a colour Annual cover. I had never
seen one before
and I remember (being a bit of a hippy) thinking 'Wow - this
is just so cool'. I was
hooked and I went straight out and bought one (a Devillebis Super
63). The intro to
airbrush changed my whole outlook on art. I could do stuff I
hadn't dreamed of
before. I started to look into 'heroic art' produced by Boris
Vallejo, Chris Achilleos
and 'freaky' stuff from Chris Foss, Roger Dean and Patrick Woodruffe.
I just wanted
to do work like this. After a while I got quite good at it and
was getting commissions
to do record sleeves and posters for bands.
And how long did one of those pieces take to create, roughly.
burn the Midnight Oil, or work to a daily schedule?
Oh, I guess the whole process could take from a few days
to a week or more per
drawing, depending on complexity. But I would have to also factor
in the preliminary
pencil drawings, meetings, and showing them to the clients. And
yes, I have
burned the Midnight Oil many times to meet a deadline.
Amongst your contemporaries, Roger Dean was associated with
Rodney Matthews with The Scorpions, etc. Did you have a band
you were specifically aligned to?
Not in the same way as Roger Dean. In other words, I wasn't
exclusively to any specific band. I was totally involved in the
Live Aid project,
in so much as I was commissioned by Bob Geldof and Harvey Goldsmith
come up with the official worldwide Global Jukebox artwork for
the whole concert.
This was used in the posters, T-shirts, programs, stage
set design, TV ads,
everything. Over the years though I have personally produced
concept art for
Meatloaf, Boy George, Spandau Ballet, AC/DC, Status Quo, Duran
Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Jimmy Page, Paul Rogers, Kim Wilde, and
I recall your art featuring regularly in all those Paper
compilations. Do you have a favourite piece?
My favourite piece was one I did for an Australian band
BBSteal in 1991
(see the gallery). The painting was a huge (six feet square)
(acrylics and inks) artwork called 'Near The Edge' and it took
me about a
month to complete it, with fanatical detail: Wonders of the world,
Wall of China, the Pyramids, and so on, dwarfed by menacing
chess icons and Pentagon war-room imagery. The band however,
my art, got nowhere and remains in obscurity ...ha ha ha!
Just how closely did you work with the recording artists.
Was it an
‘arm’s length’ experience, or were they putting their ideas to
I got to rub shoulders with many of my music heroes. They
were great, mostly.
Although I did get stood up by Boy George four times before
he consented to
turn up to an art briefing (Grin). Most of them were really down
to earth guys
though. Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers were good blokes and I got
to watch a
Jam session in progress prior to a meeting in the mid eighties,
and then got
taken down to the pub with Jimmy for a beer - tight bugger Pagey
pay for the drinks though :-)
So there you in the late 80s (fanfare again) Steve Maher:
Airbrush Art Star.
And then you upped-sticks and headed Down Under. Um. Why?
No big story here. The 80's was nearly over, CDs started
to appear, Vinal LP's
disappeared from the shops, artwork requirements changed and
the work for
big budget sleeves dried up. Meanwhile, I have a brother who
moved to Oz in
the early 70's and had been asking me when I was gonna up stumps
to 'Gods Own' for years. Eventually in the mid-80s the planets
aligned (so to speak).
My parents - bless 'em - had passed on, all the kids were
at the right age, I was
looking for a new challenge and it just looked like a good life
So here we are now new life in beautiful Oz, and loving it.
And now you're working on PC, I believe. What are you up
to now, exactly.
Indeed, what have you been doing this last decade?
At first when we arrived here I was plying my trade as a
commercial illustrator and
cartoonist, and made a nice living at this for a while. For a
few years I was doing a
lot of cartoon Illustration for LEGO Toys and also getting record
sleeve work. Then
I noticed that it was becoming more and more difficult to get
work. I think this is
down to the computer revolution. I had been working with Macs
since the late 80s
and they just got better and better with graphics. So I thought
if you can't beat 'em,
join 'em. So I started my own Multimedia/Web company called SMILE
producing web sites and then CD-rom Multimedia, music production
and some video games animation. It has been going strong ever
And finally, do you have any Big Future Plans: a piece,
or creation, or
project that you’re itching to develop (or indeed, halfway through...)?
Weeell...I have been using graphics computers (Amiga
- Mac - PC) now for nearly
sixteen years, but... As I get older I am slowly becoming more
and more frustrated
and disillusioned with the world of technology and I am finding
that, while maybe
it is all very clever, when you factor in the crashes, Trojans,
Virus's, Spam, learning
new software and so on, it is actually all getting in the way
of my creativity. What
other industry do you actually spend longer sharpening the tools
than you do doing
the work? So I plan to eventually go back to good ol' analogue,
dig out all my
brushes, dust off the drawing board, and paint stuff the old
(FOR FUN NOT MONEY) I have also gone back to music again after
all this time.
I have my own 32 track home recording studio where I get together
with Ozzy Music
Mates and I bore all my friends rigid with CD's of my own original
After all that talk, it's time to look at some visuals.
Presented here is a fine
selection of Steve Maher's artwork from his rock and Sci-fi past.
emailed over a whole bunch of scans to accompany our chat. So
here you are.
Thumbs lead to larger scans - enjoy!
Trek II Status
Aid Iron Maiden
so we came to the end of this here Q&A. You know, Mr Maher was
a gent. Not only for talking to Toonhound, but for having
the courtesy and
patience of a saint whilst Yours Truly faffed around with
a bloated workload
and a disintegrating PC. And I'm sure you folks will agree,
it was well
worth the wait, don't you think?
Don't forget, you can keep up with The Wizard Of Oz via
his web site: SMILE
- Till next time!