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Toonhound presents...







                                                                         The Fleetway interviews #8
"War Talk" with Mike Knowles
    In the latest of The Hound's intermittent series of interviews
    and encounters, writer, artist and cartoon commando
    Mike Knowles
details his ongoing deployment in the
    comics trenches...



    Mike Knowles has fought in most of the major comics campaigns of the
    20th century. And from both sides of the battlefield! In his time he's written
    for DC Thomson's "Commando", "Warlord" and "Victor". He's also stepped 
    into fun-strip territory with stints on "The Beano" and "The Dandy". And in
    the 80s he crossed No-Man's Land to take on a selection of Girl's comics,
    and a host of our favourite Fleetway fun-stars too. And let's not forget his
    Special Assignment for Bob Godfrey!
Mike's still fighting today. He freelances for a number of titles, and he
    continues to create those war-torn "Commando" tales -
although the battle
    has taken its toll. The Hound tracked Mike down to a Field Hospital
    where he was recuperating from a multi-personality disorder. And
    there, through a morphine-fueled haze, he composed a potted
of his comics career.

    Here then, is Mike's story, in his own words...


"Okay, I’ll start with a short but nevertheless
    uninteresting biography...

    A Very Short but Nevertheless Uninteresting Biography

   I spent a year at art school before deciding to try for a short
   service commission in the army (Having seen and inspected a
   totally nude woman in the life drawing class everything else
   seemed tame!). The objective was simple: to win the VC and
   live to tell the tale. Preferably with all my limbs and mental
   faculties intact. Alas, it was not to be. After telling me I’d
   got “Foxtrot” in Leadership I reminded them I was applying
   to join the army, not the Mecca Ballroom.

   "Don’t be an idiot!" they said. "Foxtrot means you’ve been graded
   “F” in Leadership."

   "Is that bad?"

   "Bad? It means you have the leadership qualities of a Lemming."

   After deciding I wasn’t officer material they remembered they
   were short of cannon fodder. So they persuaded me to join up
   and try again. They didn’t have to twist my arm. I fact, just
   to prove how pliable I was, they had me juggling live hand
   grenades behind a pile of sandbags. So ended up where all
   failed officer candidates end up, in the Intelligence Corps.
   Having saved Democracy from the Red Menace, I left the army
   and trained as a psychiatric nurse, (I should have been a patient,
   but they were short of staff.) Finally, I became a psychotherapist
   before eventually leaving the NHS to become a freelance writer.

   I’m married with two children and I’ve written for magazines,
   children’s comics, television and radio. I also wrote jokes for
   a number of comedians…  even when they begged me not to!

   Using a combination of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Poser,
   I also create cartoons on my Apple Mac G4 by digitally remixing
   old photographs. I know this is shameless self-publicising, but
   samples of my artwork can be found here.

   I started out in the early 1980’s writing for magazines. Women’s
   confessional magazines, to be exact. On a regular basis I found
   myself having to cope with unwanted pregnancies and unfaithful
   husbands/boy friends. It was a stressful experience. My analyst
   told me I was letting my imagination run away with me.

   "Just remember you’re not a woman," he said.
   "I’m not?" I cried. "That’s great. Now I can stop wearing
   these dresses."

   Then I heard that DC Thomson were always looking for writers
   for their comics. I’d been a fan of comics ever since I was a kid.
   I’d also had some experience. My parents were that poor they
   couldn’t afford to buy me any, so I had to write and draw my own.
   How poor were we? Well, my mother used to use the wax from
   our ears to polish the floor. Anyway, I started out on "Commando"
   and my career as a war hero kicked off with a WW2 story
   entitled “Coward in Khaki”, published in the 1980’s.

   That was just the start. They say war is hell. Well, I can confirm
   that because I’ve fought in most of the major military campaigns
   of the 20th Century. From the mud of Flanders to the jungles of
   Vietnam. I’ve fought the Germans whilst serving in the British,
   Australian, American French and Polish armed forces. I even
   switched sides. As a German soldier, I’ve fought the Russians
   and, just to balance things out, I’ve fought the Germans whilst
   serving with the Red Army. I’ve been a legionnaire serving in
   WW2, Korea and Vietnam and I’ve served with distinction in
   the Commandos. Not satisfied with that, I served as a tough
   combat-seasoned leatherneck in the United States Marine Corps
   where I fought the Viet Cong and the Japanese (just to make
   sure Ho Chi Min and Emperor Hirohito knew who they were up
   against, I fought them both as an Aussie). But it hasn’t all been
   military brawn. No, I’ve also been a boffin. Finally, I’ve done
   more than my bit in the French Resistance. Amongst my other
   skills I’m a qualified sniper, combat engineer, signaller,
   artilleryman, tank driver and fighter pilot.

   So much for the army selection board! - Foxtrot in Leadership?
   They must be joking. But when Britain went to war in Iraq what
   happened? Not a word from the MOD. They decided they didn’t
   need my help. And look at the mess they made of it. Enough said.

   In the meantime I’d also sold an idea to the "Warlord" comic,
   (or was it "Bullet", which merged with "Warlord"?) Anyway, the
   story was entitled “The Hammer of Vulkan” and involved a group
   of German soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front. Great! I was
   on home ground. I followed that by writing for established
   characters like “Three Men in a Jeep”, “Union Jack Jackson”
   and “The Big Palooka.”

   One idea I recall coming up with was "Steelhead Sam". It was
   about a guy whose entire skull had been replaced with a super-tough
   metal. He was a cut down version of the Million Dollar Man (unlike the
   Americans, we could only afford to do the head.) Don’t ask me how
   it was achieved because I’m no orthopaedic surgeon. Anyway,
   not only did bullets just bounce off it, it also doubled as a
   useful battering ram. Needless to say, I advised the readers
   not to try this at home.

   I also wrote for "The Victor". Probably one reason why it folded. The
   stories I recall writing were for “Tuff of the Track,” “Morgyn the Mighty”
   (DC Thomson’s answer to Tarzan), “Mike’s Millions” and a supernatural
   series called “Pendragon.” I also did my bit in "Bomber Command"
   when I also flew with "Braddock VC.”

    Commando: The Dirty Dozen   alf Tupper - The Tuff of the Track

   At this point I must confess I even did a spell writing for the girls
   comics. I told my wife it was my feminine side coming out. She told
   me she didn’t mind who I wrote for as long as they paid me to do it.
   Thankfully, all I can recall was a series called “Melody Moffat” that
   ran in either "Bunty" or "Mandy" and some stories that appeared
   in "Bunty Library". Let’s be fair. These are not the sort of credits a
   testosterone-fuelled male writer needs. Can you imagine Mickey
   Spillane writing for Mills & Boone? That’s life, I suppose. One moment
   you’re throttling a German sentry with a length of cheese wire,
   the next you’re playing with your dolls...

   I also worked for Thomson’s younger market, "The Dandy" and
   "The Beano". The characters I recall writing for are:

    Desperate Dan            Dennis the Menace       Minnie the Minx
    The Three Bears          Roger the Dodger         Brassneck
    Willy Winker                Lord Snooty                Bash Street Kids
    Little Plum                  Mickey the Mouth        Bully Beef & Chips
    Cuddles and Dimples.

   There may have been others. On top of this, I was also contributing
   to "The Dandy & Beano Comic Library". Apart from the characters
   above, I also scripted stories for Jonah, (my favourite), and
   Colonel Blink. In fact, if I remember correctly I even resurrected
   the anorexic Keyhole Kate! It wasn’t easy because I was constantly
   tempted to show Kate looking through the bathroom keyhole. This
   was before the PC Brigade took over. Nowadays, peeping through
   keyholes would be regarded as anti-social behaviour and get
   you an ASBO.

   Another DC Thomson title I wrote for was the sci-fi series,
   "Starblazer". The first one was “Holocaust Hogan” and I also
   created and wrote for the "Carter Mandroid" series. I’m told
   that once "Starblazer" folded Arthur C. Clark breathed a sigh
   of relief...

    Clark: "The swine! It’ll take me years to regain my cult status!"

   After reading Leo Baxendale’s excellent book, “A Very Funny Business,”
   I decided to do what he did and try my hand with Fleetway, (although,
   unlike Leo, I continued working for Thomson.) I got a letter from one
   of the editors - Bob Paynter - who asked me to meet some guys in
   Manchester. They turned out to be Mark Rodgers, Tony Husband and
   Patrick Gallagher who said they were creating a new comic called
   Oink!. I told them I was interested in writing some stuff for them
   and they invited me to the launch. It was a memorable trip. We visited
   the Bahamas and the Caiman Islands and returned via the Cape of
   Good Horn. Unfortunately, the only thing I came up with was a
   character called “Billy Bang.” This was a kid who literally exploded
   with anger. I believe it was the world’s first recorded case of
   Spontaneous Human Fulmination. Fortunately for Billy, he was able
   to circumvent the Law of Entropy and reassemble himself in time
   for the next episode. It’s said that Stephen Hawking is still trying
   to find out how he did it (if you can, there’s a Nobel Prize in
   it for you, Steve!)

   Why didn’t I do more? The truth is, I was overstretched. Not only
   was I doing the DC Thomson work outlined above, Bob had also asked
   me to supply scripts for "Buster" and "Whizzer & Chips". If memory
   serves me well, I supplied scripts for the following characters:

    Beastenders              Smart Alec          Ivor Lott & Tony Broke
    Lazy Bones               Mummy’s Boy       Odd Ball
    Pete’s Pop Up Book    Sammy Shrink       Shiner
    Sid’s Snake              The Winners         Smiler
    Sweeny Toddler        Sweet Tooth        Joker
   I suppose Beastenders stands out because Bob Paynter asked me
   to start off the series and come up with some characters. It was
   also the one I enjoyed doing most.

   So how were the scripts done? They were similar to TV and film
   scripts. Each picture was numbered, followed a description of
   the scene. Finally, the dialogue and any panels that might
   be required.

   How long did they take? Well, I could usually knock up three or
   four a day (scripts, I hasten to add, not women!).

   Another episode from my time at Fleetway also stands out. I recall
   meeting Bob and some of the other staff in London where I mentioned
   I was dabbling with computer artwork and he asked me to do some.
   The result was a feature called “Shiner’s Micro Chip-ite Mini Mag.”
   Believe it or not, but the text and artwork were done using an
   Amstrad PCW!

   Did I do anything apart from the comics? Did I have the time to do
   anything else? Well, by the simple expedient of working through the
   night, I was able to contribute to the following...

   Stories and articles to: "The Nursing Times", "True Magazine",
   "Woman’s Way", "Computer Mart", "Fiesta"

   Sketches and quickies to TV shows like: "The Two Ronnies",
   "Three of a Kind", "Saturday Night Live", "OTT"

   Scripting: "Bunbury Tails" (Bob Godfrey)

   And work commissioned by Exley Publishing (joke books)
   and Henderson Publishers (How-To children’s books).

   What am I doing nowadays? Well, apart from keeping up a regular
   output of "Commando" stories, I do scripts for an Indian animation
   studio. I also write some articles for magazines, mostly in the
   American and Canadian market. Finally, I’m working on some
   projects with a couple of artists, Nick Miller and Martin Baines..."

    ...At this point, Mike petered out into gibberish, and a Nurse appeared
    with a sedative. But the Hound just had time to pursue an asignment
    missing from the Knowles CV. He had worked for Bob Godfrey not
    once, but two times, because his name mysteriously appears on the
    credits for that classic cartoon series Henry's Cat.

   "God! I’d forgotten about "Henry’s Cat". I can’t recall how
    the great BG got my name, but he called me one day and
    asked me if I’d be interested in scripting this animated series
    for C4 called "The Bunburies" (aka "Bunbury Tails").

    The Bunburies and Henry's Cat

    It had started with a series of books about a group of cricket
    playing rabbits written by David English and illustrated by an
    artist whose name escapes me (Jan Brychta). Anyway, I had
    a series of meetings in London with BG and David and then
    started writing the scripts. It was ironic really because, to be
    honest, cricket bores me. In fact, all sporting events bore me.
    Apart from Russian Roulette and crocodile wrestling. So there
    I was, hobnobbing with David English who not only commentated
    on a test series for Sky, but was also a great friend of Ian

    Afterwards, BG asked me to write a script for "Henry’s Cat".
    That’s about it, I guess. I hope that’s about it because I don’t
    think I can handle all this fame!..."

     And thus I was escorted away. Though I managed to catch one final
     glimpse of Mike, wrestling free of his Nurse to grab his weapon once
     more - like a true comics soldier...

    Mr Knowles, we salute you!

     Till next time...

         Pooch says 'Stay tooned!'    August 2006

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