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 The Fleetway interviews #4

The Hound presents a Q&A with artist Colin Whittock...

    In Summer 2002 Colin Whittock talked about his days at Fleetway drawing
    Lazy Bones and friends, his book work, radio writing, and a cartoon career
    which seemed to take up every waking moment of his day...

     Benny Bones - Whiz-z-z-z-z Kid...

A Champion CV    From A To Zzzz    From The Archive
Colin's cartoon        Colin talks to         A handsome quartet
career...                 The Hound...          of scans for you...


     Fleetway fans will be familiar with Colin Whittock's work for Whizzer And Chips
     Buster and other weeklies. Between 1970 and 1986 Colin brought us the best
     days of Lazy Bones, Catnap, and Mizz Marble, took over strip duties on Champ,
     Clever Dick and many more besides. But he's more widely known as an editorial
     and commercial cartoonist, admired for his work on The Birmingham Evening Mail,
     Punch and Private Eye - work that's lead on to employment as a writer for that
     hugely-successful radio series The News Huddlines. In addition, he's illustrated a
     popular series of books - 'The Perils Of...' - familiar to anyone who browses
     the Humour section of their local bookstore. Oh, and then there's those strips
     starring Kev the surly teenager, and those greetings cards, and - well - plenty
     more besides. Suffice it to say our Colin's a rather busy man...

    The Perils Of Pushing 40 - by Colin Whittock  Mizz Marble & Terry

    Colin's strip work is most distinctive, a loose pen and very fine line. Panels
    and characters feel scribbled, almost, and are imbued with great energy.
    That is, apart from that lazy lumpkin Benny Bones. All the energy in a Lazy
    Bones strip is being generated around his static form!...

    There's plenty more detail and info on Colin's official site, but don't go there
    yet or you'll miss out on our rather splendid Q&A here at Toonhound...

   Meow! - It's CatnapA chat with Colin Whittock...

     Talking to Colin has been a real pleasure. He took much time and effort to
     answer my questions and furnish me with many of the images you see
     on this page. Now call me bone idle (or indeed, Benny Bones-idle) but I've
     found a comfortable formula for these Q&As, so as usual my questions
     are in bold and we start from where we always seem to start - right back
     at the beginning...



     Where do you hale from. Did anyone in your family have
     artistic leanings?

     I'm a Brummie, born and bred, and the only artistic background I know of
     is that my maternal grandfather, who I never met, was a compositor in the
printing trade and did beautiful copperplate penwork.

     Who were your childhood influences?

     Leo Baxendale, Davy Law and other Beano artists. Later Larry, Bill Tidy,
     Giles and the countless other cartoonists, most of who's work I thoroughly

     Did you come through art school?

     No, I failed 'O-Level' art at Grammar School, which was almost
     impossible to do.

     Your first break, was it the Birmingham Evening Mail-How did
     that come about?

     I suppose the Mail was my first big break, but I'd been selling single gags
     around the considerably much larger market that was around in those days.
     I'd even sold my first cartoons to Punch, which was our biggest target.
     But then one of those things happened that you cannot anticipate. My
     predecessor on the paper suddenly decided to sell-up, draw out his pension
     pot, buy a Land Rover and caravan and drive to Australia to seek his fortune
     in opals. This was 1969 and he'd been on the paper since 1948. He left on
     the Friday and on the following Monday, I left three finished topical cartoons
     with the commissionaire at the front desk together with a spiky letter to the
     editor saying, 'I am going to send you cartoons every day, use them if you
     like them or spike them if you don't.'
I look back and wonder where on earth
     the idea for that aggressive attack came from, because honestly, at that time
     I was a fairly mild character, but something or somebody drove me into doing
     it and it worked. Cartoons were published that day and thereafter and so I had
     started my first regular job. I still work for them now.

     So how did your Fleetway work come around?

     My career with Fleetway was only ever a part-time career. I was enjoying
     drawing gag cartoons with steady success, but had always been, like most
     of my generation a terrific fan of comics. Particularly Davy Law and Baxendale's
     breakthrough in the Beano during the mid-fifties. I really wanted to see if I could
     draw for the comics. During the Cartoonist Club convention at Pwhelli in
     May 1970, I chatted to Roy Davis about it. Roy worked for Fleetway and was
     also a successful gag cartoonist for Punch with a very distinctive style. He said
     the best approach was to choose a current character whose style I thought I
     could match, draw up an episode and send it in. I chose a character called
     'Spoilsport', worked up a story and sent it to Roy in June 1970. I later rang
     him and he said the comments he'd heard were favourable. I heard nothing
     till mid-July when Bob Paynter, the Whizzer and Chips editor (amongst many
     others) rang me and offered me a 'Champ' script to try out. This I drew and he
     immediately said he would use it and started sending me scripts weekly. I was
     up and running.

     Like many things in life, I'd picked a lucky moment. I applied just at a time
     when Mr Baxendale was under so much pressure, that they were looking for
     artists to pick-up some of his work. This was emphasized when I received a
     call from another editor, Len Wenn, who asked me if I could draw an episode
     of another Baxendale cracker, 'The Swots and the Blots'. Again, I drew this
     double-pager and received a telegram asking if I could take over the feature.
     At the time I was determined to continue with my other regular and gag cartoon
     work, so I turned it down. It would have been a lot of work drawing a two-page
     spread with all the characters.

     And from there came Champ and Lazy Bones and the rest...

     I drew 'Champ' from episode 50 in 1970 through to episode 341 in April 1976,
     over 300 sets including Annuals and Summer Specials. I also did odd Summer
     Specials, Annuals and the occasional comic page for 'Clever Dick' of Buster
     fame. I then was moved on to 'Lazy Bones', my favourite. I drew Benny Bones
     from March 1978 through to July 1986. From there sprang 'Catnaps' in August
     1979. I also drew cover sets during holidays etc. for 'Mustapha Million' (Cheeky),
     'Speed Squad' , 'Snooper' (Jackpot), 'Full O' Beans' (Jackpot) and 'Sweeny
     Toddler' (Whoopee), 'Nellyphant' (Buster) and 'The Katts'.

     In 1982, I was given 'Rolf's Magic Brushes ' and 'Jake the Peg' for WOW!. This
     was based on Rolf Harris and was sponsored by the toy company who sold
     Magic Brushes. Then while still drawing Lazy Bones in summer 1983, Bob
     Paynter rang and asked me to create a new double-page set, 'Coronation
     Street School'. This was obviously based on child versions of all the popular
     'Street' characters at that time. This started in Whizzer And Chips in
     September 1983 and ran until August 1984, not as popular as the real thing.

       Terry makes a run for helpBenny Bones and his Dad

     I drew Lazy and Catnaps through until July 1986, like I say. Then Bob rang
     and asked me to create another new double page set, 'Mizz Marbles'. This
     started in Whizzer And Chips issue 2nd August 1986 and at that point,
     I believe Len Hill took over Lazy Bones. I drew 'Mizz Marble' through to
     March 1988, some 80 sets. At this time, comics were on the blink. Closing
     down or merging titles, and mine and many other artist's work fizzled out.
     Many tried to switch to D.C.Thomson. I tried and drew numerous pages for
     their small comic books, which was their sort of training ground. But the
     money was much lower than Fleetway artists were used to. My peak with
     Thomson's was to finally be trusted with a set of 'Ivy the Terrible' which
     actually appeared in the Beano in November 1989, so I made it! - But that
     was it. The end of a most enjoyable era. I loved drawing comics and I thank
     Bob Paynter for giving me those years of enjoyment. The other truth was,
     my other cartoon work meant that I couldn't justify the work and reward that
     came from the comic work that was then available.

     You're a comedy writer too, were you allowed to write your own
     Fleetway strips?

     I didn't write many, the odd 'Champ' and 'Lazy Bones'. The only one I wrote
     was the 'Catnaps' strips, that was mine.

     Your 'Perils of' books have proven remarkably popular. How
     did they come about?

     Again luck took a hand. Before those books were published I was introduced
     to a very successful book packager. He commissioned top names to write
     books of anecdotes and then commissioned cartoonists to illustrate same. I'd
     been in hospital recovering from eye-surgery (Both my retinas were coming off)
     when this gentleman called and asked if I'd like to illustrate 'More Bedside Golf'
     by Peter Alliss. Would I? I now know it was a great friend Bill Tidy, who knowing
     my low predicament had recommended me to the agent as someone needing
     a pick-me-up. So I said 'Yes, please' which was very risky because at that
     time I couldn't see! - I then illustrated that book through a very squinty right
     eye, but it still looks ok. This preamble is to say that from there I did several
     books with this guy and one day I was delivering a set of finished cartoons
     when he said that Sphere paperbacks had a gap in their schedules because
     Stan McMurtry (cartoonist Mac) was ill and couldn't complete a book they'd
     commissioned, did I have anything? I said I had the outline of a book about
     being 40 and the mid-life crisis, but I couldn't sort out a format. The next
     morning in the post he sent me a series of headings and that was just what
     I needed. So simple but I hadn't spotted it myself. Anyway I quickly prepared
     the roughs sent them in, Sphere changed their minds but Century picked
     them up and the rest as they say, is history. I did five in the series and they
     all reprinted , the '40' one eleven times I think.

     Have you plans for any more cartoon book series?

     Apparently my contract says that if I have any more plans I have to give
     Century first refusal. But I've been too busy/lazy to come up with any new
     ideas and themes, but maybe one day..

     When did you start Chipper?

     I took over when Jack Bell - the previous artist - retired about eleven years
     ago, on a temporary basis until they could find another artist. And now some
     4000 +plus strips further on I wouldn't be without him. The strip is nearly fifty
     years old, started in the North East by Doug Smith (Who I met at the Cartoonist
     Club) then taken up by Len Pardoe followed by Jack Bell then myself.

     And there's Kev too. How did that one come to you?

     This is a coloured weekly for our local Sunday Mercury and came about
     when the editor asked me if I knew anyone who could create a strip about
     a teenage layabout. At the time my son Andy was at Uni about to leave, and
     he was a more than handy cartoonist. I said here's a golden opportunity to
     land your first regular spot. So I started him off drawing in his style and signing
     it Andy. He didn't take it up and here we are again some 400 plus strips further
     on and I'm still Andy. Mind you, he justified his other interests as he's now
     working as a technical director with Pixar in San Francisco!

     Looking at your web site, I'm intrigued by those Armitage Pet
     Products caricatures- what were they for exactly?

     They were dog and cat toys. They had previously had a set of Maggie
     and Kinnock designed by Fluck and Law the Spitting Image genii. I had to
     design Hague, Blair and Gordon Brown. Great fun. I was half way through
     drawing Portillo but he never made it, so that was scrapped.

     Do you operate out of a studio, from home or elsewhere?

     Yes! - That is I have three boards set up. One at the Evening Mail, one in
     my studio in Birmingham city centre and one at home. I waltz between the
     three. Early morning deadlines at the Mail. Some time at the studio and then
     odd times at home when I'm dog-sitting.

     Do you have a particular work routine. Are you a morning
     artist or do you burn the midnight oil?

     I rise at 5.30am and immediately scan the news having done the same the
     night before. I then go into Brum at 7am to my studio and finish my rough
     ideas. I then present the roughs to my editor and draw the chosen cartoon
     for my deadline of 8.30am. So it's an early start. I then work at the Mail on
     Chippers or other work and go over to my Studio again. I work on other items
     and go home during the afternoon. I then finish other work and send any items
     as my computer is at home and I send 99% of my work attached to e-mails.
     I also finish work on the computer as necessary. Yes I still do burn the midnight,
     but not as much as I used to.

     Your radio writing seems to be a natural extension of your topical
     and editorial cartoon work for Punch and Private Eye etc.- did that
     work come from those connections?

     Not really. Obviously the topical work helps because you're thinking along
     the same thought lines but again it was a desire to have a go at something
     I adored. Radio comedy. The beauty of the News Huddlines was that anyone
     could send stuff in and it was a show based on the old traditions of comedy
     but with an up-to-date sting. I had bad luck there really because I was told by
     the producer that I was to be a commissioned writer for the next series and
     Roy went into Coronation Street, so there wasn't a next series!

     You have your own developing website, have you moved on to
     graphics tablets, Flash and suchlike or are you sticking to
     traditional methods?

     I have a Wacom tablet which I use regularly. I mix a bit of everything really.
     I still use ink and a dip-in Gillott 303 nib for my cartoons but I also use all
     the modern felt-tips etc. and other wonderful products that are available.
     I colour a lot of my work on the computer and it's always a bit embarrassing
     when someone wants an original and I have to say it only exists in black
     and white.

     Have you ever worked in animation circles at all. Does that
     area interest you, particularly?

     No, I haven't, but I'm interested in every aspect of our work and my son
     has obviously kept me up to date with many of the latest developments in
     the animation world. Your readers maybe interested to see some of his
     creations on his site www.toonnation.co.uk...

     What are your current projects, and what's next. More writing,
     more new strips?

     To be honest, my regular work takes up most of my time and I have little
     time to spend on new projects. I'm illustrating a book of limericks for a
     friend (Fifth book in a series) I've lost my writing target (The Huddlines)
     for the moment. So I need new inspiration for a writing project. I wish I had
     more time to do singles for Private Eye etc. I'll be perfectly happy continuing
     with my work and looking at any new projects that I'm able to help with.


      September 11th Liberty scan...   September 11th World scan...  

     From The Archive

     As I mentioned at the top of the page, and as referred to in the Q&A,
     Colin is probably better known for editorial and commercial work.
     These four scans were included in the selection of material Colin sent
     to accompany our chat and rather than reducing them down to
     squint-or-you'll-miss-'em jpegs, it made sense to present them in
     their full-size glory via these thumbnails...

     NHS Joke scan...     Greetings Card scan...

     First up are two splendidly effective views of the world in the wake of
     September 11th and all that dreadful day entailed. Then there's some
     topical humour, poking fun at the good old NHS. And lastly, to lighten
     things up we have a typical greetings card design...

    There are plenty more examples of this kind of work on Colin's
    web site, including scans of those Armitage Pet Products I mention
    in the Q&A, more book info, and more besides. Here's the URL:


    So there you have it, folks, The Hound's Colin Whittock page. An
    accomodating fellow and a pleasure to 'talk' to - or at least, exchange
    emails with...

     - Till next time!

Pooch again!     thehound@toonhound.com    

© Colin Whittock / IPC/Fleetway   / F2000-2004