Fleetway artists are often referred to as having received a 'raw deal'
publishers, with their names infrequently mentioned
on the editor's page and their
signatures missing from far too many strips. But at least
they can be identified,
through comparison and research (and web sites like
Pity more the poor Fleetway writers, like Graham Exton.
Graham is truly one
of the unsung heroes of those comics. His name doesn't
appear to have been
mentioned anywhere in the weekly titles and yet it's his
fertile - or indeed, furtive
-imagination which lead that horror-in-a-romper Sweeny
Toddler towards the peak
of his popularity. Graham created that hay-stuffed yokel
Strawbelly, put together
and had a trotter in the swill that was moulded into Oink!
You know, there was a wild period during the mid-to-late-eighties,
was shifted from Whoopee! to Whizzer & Chips,
with Tom Paterson now holding
the Sweeny pen and Graham scripting pop culture spoofs
of He-Toddler, Sweeny
Crockett, Robinson Sweeny and so many more - it was pure
genius. Mad as March Hares boxing in your custard, but
genius none the less.
Now here's another revelation. Those particular Sweeny
strips are still renowned
for their incredibly stupid inserts, signs and asides
running parallel to the main
story. These have often been attributed solely to Tom Paterson
- The Hound has
even suggested the same before now - but in reality many
appeared courtesy of
Mr. Exton, as his scripts prove. The
Sweeny Show was very much a two-handed
production - heck, I bet that demonic Toddler needed
a dozen pairs of eyes
on him at all times...
Graham is one of those creatives whose talent
is very difficult to bottle. He's
full of ideas and creations. Light the touch paper,
stand back and watch his
display. It's truly a shame that the outlets for such
creativity have all-but dried
up. If anyone WAS thinking of bringing back a weekly
comic, Graham would
be the prefect firecracker to stimulate the project...
...But you'd have to track him down first. When the
Fleetway comics folded,
so did Graham's London life. He's now moved a world away
from the smog and
grime of Fleetway HQ, to the permanent sunshine of The
Bahamas. So what's
he doing out there, has he been exiled Napoleon-style to
a foreign outpost
from which he hones his plans for Cartoon Domination?
- Find out for yourself
in our 5th Fleetway Q&A as we talk to 'Toddzilla'
himself, Mr Graham Exton...
Gosh, how many times has it happened? - Rather than
me chasing around after
interviewees, the people in question have contacted
me first. That's what Graham
did after he found Spare-Part
Kit over on Fleetway St. He emailed me from his
home in The Bahamas to fill in the gory details of
Kit's past, and when he
mentioned his additional involvement with Sweeny and
Oink! - well - that just
added a whole can of spray cream to my coffee. What
follows is the resulting
Q&A. And if the way we made contact adhered to
an old formula, so too did
my questions. Cue those wibbly-wobbly fx as we go
back, all the way back,
to the beginning....
begin at the beginning, where do you hale from. Have you
always been into comics and publishing?
I’m from Stafford, published my first thing at a Cub Scout
event. We collected
the exciting “news”, scraped them onto a wax master sheet,
then ran them
off on an old banda machine...)
you draw as well as write, of course...
Yup. I started off as a kid drawing Giant Man and Spidey
from my burgeoning
collection of Marvel comics. Pretty soon all the kids in
my class were doing
the same, and our room was covered in the things. They
looked very good
considering we were all seven or eight years old. I realised
I was actually
crap at the superhero stuff when my college buddy Mark
and Round the Bend supremo) wrote silly captions for a
Triton comic I had
drawn. I drew some Sweenies in the eighties, and there
were one or two I
was proud of. I managed to get IPC to publish a chicken
that looked exactly
like a scrotum. And they coloured it in! I also got Noddy’s
car and a snazzy
Alfa in there. I copied them from my Matchbox versions.
So who are your heroes and influences, Marvel artists,
Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Leo Baxendale, Don Martin,
Ken Reid. I started
drawing funny strips by copying Danny from The Bash Street
Kids. To this
day my stuff looks very Baxendale - ish. Good thing he’s
changed his style
completely! The Beatles and Monty Python humour was also
Mark Rodgers taught me that you need a good ending.
When did you start writing for Fleetway/IPC, and how did
In the early eighties, just as I was finishing college
(Leeds University), my
friend Mark Rodgers started writing scripts for IPC. Mark
was a big influence.
He was fearless, having a go at everything and he was the
reason I got work
from IPC. He made in-roads with his scripts, and I followed
So how did things work for you. Were you handed characters
write for, or were you offered a selection of strips to
A surefire way to get commissions was to do scripts that
no one else wanted
to do, like Sid’s Snake. I was given it full-time, at one
point, but couldn’t think
of enough things to do with a snake. (As in “1001 things
to do with a Dead Cat”)
Viz had the right idea when they killed off and ate Victor’s
I suspect one of them had had enough of Sid’s Snake too.
Also when a writer
went mad, defected to Thomsons or just gave up on a strip,
(usually Bob Paynter) would try it on one of the new writers
to see if they could
stick at it a bit longer. Weekly comics gobble up scripts,
so there was always
a struggle to fill up the pages. (Until they discovered
Mark and I did it the wrong way round, sending in loads
of ideas for new strips.
We had this idea that most of what IPC published was unfunny,
and what they
needed was some real humour. We ended up doing other folks’
strips for the
most part, but Mark got Deadly Hedley published, illustrated
by Leo Baxendale’s
lad, no less, and D. H was entirely Mark’s character. The
others that we did were
suggested by Bob Paynter, and we developed them.
How many strips were you writing for, at your ‘peak’, and
recall which ones they were?
Not as many as Mark, who was doing entire comics almost
at one point. But I was doing Gums, Sid’s Sodding Snake,
Spare Part Kit, Sweeny Toddler, and numerous fill-ins which
I did to bolster
my Florida Holiday fund. I ditched most of them to do just
Sweeny by the time
I moved to the Bahamas.
A lot of strips, then. What sort of turnaround time were
you working to?
I think it was about a month from script to publication.
Sometimes a script
would come back for a rewrite, so then it would take longer.
I’ve not seen a Fleetway script before. How is/was that
thing presented - pencil sketches and dialogue, like a
or just plain script?
Anything would do, seemingly. I made a point of typing
everything up, as
I wanted to improve my typing. Then I decided I wanted
to draw, so I sketched
out the layouts with the talks balloons. I was dead chuffed
when Tom Paterson
would use my layouts, as it meant I was doing it right.
It must have made
things a bit easier for him, too. I’ve enclosed the script
from Toddler From
the Black Lagoon (or Toddler from a
Blank Loony, as Sweeny called it) for your
amusement. It was one of my favourites. Tony Husband, prize-winning
of Oink! and Private Eye, used to send in the most amazing
scripts - barely
legible with blobs where the characters went. But it was
all you needed as long
as you could read it.
You’ve also mentioned the more ‘gruesome’ aspects of your
original Kit idea. Have you any other original strip ideas
from the Fleetway days that were also toned down, or indeed,
Bob Paynter wanted a script about super-surgery. There
must have been
something in the news about it. I had a kid with a supply
of famous people’s
body parts. I would have him nip behind a curtain, sew
on a famous athlete’s
legs and then do something heroic. It begged the question:
where the heck
did he get the parts, and what about the original owners?
Mr P toned it down
to a sort of kiddie Iron Man. A rather gay-looking kiddie
Iron Man, in fact!
The only rejection I got was one where Sweeny behaved like
a real toddler
and pooed his pants. I managed to get the one with the
nuclear guff in it
just fine. I personally edited out the corporal punishment
so common in early
Sweenies and Dennis the Menaces. It meant Dad had to be
with his punishments, for one thing. Also it was more PC.
How come you ended up with Sweeny - I assume you worked
closely with Tom Paterson on this?
I thought it would be amusing to have Sweeny dress up as
and shout, “Me IS the Law!” so I did a script with him
on the cover doing
just that. I sent it to IPC and Mark Rodgers (him again!)
happened to be in
the office at the time. Bob Paynter was taken with the
Sweeny idea, and was
showing it to his pals, saying, “Look what Tom did!” Mark
recognised the style
and pointed out that I did it, so they then offered me
Sweeny on a full-time
basis. I don’t know who was doing it before then. I was
very happy to get the
cover and the best character. Sadly, I don’t know Tom Paterson
The scripts were sent to IPC, and then on to Tom, who did
stuff. As we are both Baxendale fans, it wasn’t hard to
consistent with the Sweeny style. A lot of writers and
artists must have
shared the feeling of tossing work out into a void, then
seeing it in print a
month or so later. It was very strange.
Strawbelly was intriguing. The farm-owner was quite a 'sexy'
single lady, for a Fleetway strip. How did the strip come
Mark developed it as IPCs cheap answer to Worzel Gummidge.
to invent an “original” character, rather than secure the
rights to a popular TV
character, and IPC were good at saving money.) None of
the pro artists could
come up with a visually satisfactory Strawbelly, or indeed
any of the characters,
so I did some for Mark, and they were the ones that were
used. I did not get any
remuneration for my efforts, but it turned out to
be a nice strip. Ian Knox did
the art, and he’s topnotch. The characters were named after
food because kids
love food. (What else do they know about?) Mark’s girlfriend
Helen was (and is)
an independent soul, and probably inspired the character.
She was called
Something Shortcake, I think. Mark knew nothing about the
a Middlesborough lad, yet somehow wrote strip after strip.
He did the same
with Boy Boss, even though he knew bugger-all about business.
writer! (Or B.S merchant.)
And then there was Oink! - A popular comic, even today.
be chuffed with it's continuing popularity. Can you tell
about its birth?
I’ve enclosed one of the original strips
that I did when the “Junior Viz” was
being developed. Mark Rodgers, Tony Husband and Patrick
the Big Three. They were all based in Manchester at the
time. I was on my
way to the Bahamas to teach, but managed to sit in on a
few meetings, as
well as create a few strips. Weirdly, a lot of the comics
we made up featured
pigs, so Bob Paynter suggested a pig theme. I chipped in
the idea of a
Tharg-like character as editor, and we came up with Uncle
name, eh?) I remembered the old Bullshit Bulletins at Marvel,
and the cult
of personality that Stan Lee built for himself, and thought,
that’s what we
need. I wish something like Oink! was still going. There
are so many talented
writers and artists that no longer have an outlet. It always
seemed a bit
subversive too, and that’s always fun, if nothing else.
It became “Round The
Bend” on TV. The reason why Doc Crock replaced Uncle Pigg
was that it’s
cheaper to invent a new character, rather than .. You get
IPC wanted too much loot for the rights to Uncle Pigg,
not realising that the
best way to sell comics is to have a TV tie-in.
...And why did it fold, or rather 'merge' with Buster?
- Lack of
sales, I assume...
1) Robert Maxwell 2) W.H. Smith.
I think we all know what happened to Maxwells’s business
Smiths caved in to pressure from some silly woman in Portsmouth
took exception to a strip in Oink! (Canceling her subscription
did not occur to her.) Oink! was moved to the adult section
next to Viz where
kids could no longer find it. There were a lot of letters
complaining that it had
been canceled, when it hadn’t at all. The kids just couldn’t
reach it up on the
When we first exchanged emails you mentioned teaching in
Cannock - can you tell us more. What were you teaching,
My first teaching job was English Lang and Lit at Sherbrook
School in Cannock.
I got the kids to help with the research for School Fun,
most of which was
ignored by IPC, hence the generally crappy nature of the
comic. We had a lot
of fun in the process. The best work they did was develop
the Butlitz Holiday
Camp, full of favourite and not-so favourite teachers being
interrogated and so on.
Good, clean, violent fun.
After Fleetway, what did you do?
Then I got a job teaching Lang and Lit in the Bahamas,
and the comic work
petered out. I was vaguely pleased that my old Sweenies
were being repeated,
but not so pleased that neither Tom nor I got anything
out of it.
And what are you up to in the Bahamas? - it’s a long way
I’m still teaching Lang and Lit. I do a lot of worksheets,
as most of our text
books are unsuitable for Bahamian children. And the worksheets
cartoon pics on them. That way the kids have something
to draw when they
finish their proper work. They like them, and tell me I’m
dialect meaning “cool, in an amusing way.”)
Have you any new cartoon or comics projects up your sleeve
What are you up to now, creatively-speaking?
I’m writing a book, like most English teachers, but there’s
a chance that this
one will get finished, as I know how it ends. Then it’s
a matter of persuading
some publisher to print it - that’s the really hard bit.
I have tons of cartoon ideas
and many finished products. I’ve never conned anyone into
I’m very fond of “CC and RW”. CC stands for “A Caped Crusader”
to THE Caped Crusader) and RW is Roy Wonder. It’s not a
parody, just a vehicle for whatever was on my mind at the
time. I did some
strips called Evil Jimmy Weevil too,
using the time-honoured idea of it
being easier and cheaper to create a new character etc
Do you still keep in touch with any of the Fleetway 'gang'?
I don’t think there was a “gang” as such, as everyone worked
in isolation. At least
at Thomson's they had a sort of bullpen. They paid miserably,
however, so I don’t
mind not being part of that group. Mark died in 1993 (Sob!
Choke!), but I still have
occasional correspondence with Tony Husband. Incidentally,
Tony has his own
and Patrick Gallagher writes for Lard and the other one on Radio One.
(Lard is Mark Reiley, of Fall and Creeper fame, and he
did Harry the Head in
Oink! as well as sang the songs on the Oink! EP.) The bloke
under the Frank
Sidebottom head may have some amusing anecdotes, but I
can’t vouch for his
sanity. I’m glad Toonhound exists, as a lot of folks put
their all into some of
those cartoon strips. They deserve some credit. You wouldn’t
believe how long
some of those stupid comics took to gestate! I hope your
Gosh, as if the Q&A wasn't enough, Graham has
very kindly supplied three
script and strip scans to share with Toonhound visitors.
Click on the thumbnails
to partake of Sweeny Toddler, Evil Jimmy Weevil, and Percy's
Pig. They may
take a little time to load but, by heck, they're worth the
1. Graham has kindly let us reproduce this scan of
a Sweeny script as drawn
by him. 'Toddler From The Black
Lagoon' is one of Graham's favourite tales,
and the final strip was of course
illustrated by the marvellous Tom Paterson.
As you can see, all of those asides
and details so often attributed to Mr P
are, equally, Mr E's work too....
2. Evil Jimmy Weevil is an original Graham Exton creation,
as he mentions
in the Q&A. Jimmy twists his
name from that death-defying daredevil
Evil Kneivel, but he's no Fall Guy. In
this fab strip, Jimmy shows us
exactly how his mate 'Twang' acquired
such an interesting First Name...
3. And last but not least, here's 'Percy's Pig' from the
comic Graham refers
to as 'Junior Viz', buy you and
I know as 'Oink!'. A fab strip this, with an
eccentric star character and a splendid
helping of surreal off-panel violence...
Thus gorged and happy, we rounded up our 5th Fleetway
interview. A bumper
bundle this time, don't you think? - Graham was most forthcoming
to my questions, and offering those splendid scans to share
with you. Remember,
he also added further enlightenment to my Spare-Part
Kit page - Many thanks,
Mr Exton - Now don't forget, there are more than 100
Fleetway strips indexed
in detail over on Fleetway
- Till next time!