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
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...
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
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
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
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
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
How advanced was the schedule - were you given
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
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)
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
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
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
Speaking of computers, has the PC-bug
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....
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!