Three Mike Western Interviews
I've managed to collate here three seperate interviews with 'Darkies Mob' artist Mike Western.
Interview #1 comes from issue 3 of an excellent fanzine called 'The Eagle Flies Again' put together by Ian Wheeler, which covers mainly 'The Eagle' comic. You can contact Ian for copies here.
Another fanzine called 'Comic Bits', published by the
Black Tower Comics Group, supplies Interviews #2 and #3. This great fanzine focuses on the work of the UK's much neglected gold and silver age comic creators.
The first issue (£3.50 inc. p&p) contained not one but two interviews with Mike Western. The most recent one was carried out by Fanzine editor Terry Hooper, along with a reprint of an interview with Davy Francis from issue 3 of a 1987 'zine called 'Funny Ha-Ha'. Both are presented in part below (I've edited out a lot of the non-'Battle' stuff - if you are interested in seeing the full interviews, I suggest you buy a copy of the mag! ).
There is also one piece of *NEW* Darkie's Mob art from the man himself (at the age of 76!).
It doesn't get a lot better than that.
I urge anyone who enjoys these pages to get a copy of 'Comic Bits' - issue #2 has an interview with 'Johnny Red' & early 'Judge Dredd' artist John Cooper !
Mike Western didn't
particularly set out to be
' I was a wages clerk,' recalls Mike. 'After
army service, I got a job in film animation. This collapsed
when the money ran out. But it
had lit the spark that led to comic strip work, more by luck
than choice. '
Had he ever considered an alternative
'I sometimes think that I'd like to have been an actor', he reveals, 'bit I
haven't got the bottle!'
'My first art-job', says Mike,
'was with a comic called
KNOCKOUT. They gave me some
single picture illustrations to
written stories, which led
eventually to getting strip-cartoon adventure stories.'
wondered if Mike had had any
heroes, any artists he
particularly admired. 'My
admiration had been for the
American artists who were in the comic books, notably Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff and the ones who did 'Tarzan'. These people were gods to me.'
Anyone who is familiar with
Mike's work will remember how
good he was at capturing
'The faces I
always liked drawing,' Mike
admits. 'In my teens, I was
heavily influenced by Hollywood
and film photography. I
continually tried to get the
things that made Basil Rathbone
or Gary Cooper look as they
did. Laurence Olivier was a
face that I couldn't get but I
learned quite a bit of light
and shade and got some drama in
the faces. Real people were not my scene - I was a two-dimension artist, grown on the
Hollywood trade and the graphics of films!'
I wondered if Mike had had a
particular interest in military
history and whether he had had to do a lot of research for the
In fact, 'most
of my military detail came from
my army days, but not all. I
did get a taste for detail,
particularly the Germans. They seemed to have a great sense of
style in their stuff, and
people like Rommel were great.
However, I began to get the
idea of British gear - and in
'The Sarge' and similar stuff,
began to go for the squaddy -
good old Tommy Atkins. Yes, I
was keen on military history
and did study a lot of uniforms
and equipment. BATTLE was the
ideal comic magazine for this
kind of adventure story.'
I asked Mike which of the
BATTLE writers he had enjoyed
working with and he replied
that 'the writers were
important, and I liked the
stuff that Tom Tully turned
out. John Wagner had a good,
gritty style and a great way
with his scripts - models of
brevity but to the point. I
came to realise that the writer was an item in the story
production that could put the
atmosphere on the end of your
pen and brush!'
Which was Mike's favourite story ? 'The series called
'Darkie's Mob' in BATTLE,
written by John Wagner, was my
favourite yarn, out of a host of others. It had a sort of gritty honesty and the hero was
half-English, half-Japanese. An
unusual story but one I enjoyed
from day one.
Interview compiled by Ian
Wheeler. With thanks to Mike
for his time and his
TERRY - Terry Hooper
MIKE - Mike Western
TERRY : Over such a long career spanning forty years have you
solely worked for British comics - any work outside of
MIKE : Only British comics and a very small amount of
illustration, still within comics - covers,etc..
TERRY : I've been trying to think of the strips you've worked on
such as "H.M.S. NIGHTSHADE",and the classic "SARGE", both
for IPC's BATTLE/BATTLE ACTION FORCE. And you have done
super-heroes such as "THE LEOPARD FROM LIME STREET"
for the comic BUSTER and, in 1987, "THE AVENGER" for EAGLE.
What other strips are there?
MIKE : Well, "THE WILD WONDERS" in VALIANT, " JOHNNY
WINGCO" in KNOCKOUT, "NO HIDING PLACE" and "BIGGLES"
in TV EXPRESS, " DARKIES MOB" in BATTLE and "ROY OF THE ROVERS"
in the DAILY STAR newspaper.
TERRY: Which was your favourite - and which the least favourite?
MIKE : "DARKIE'S MOB" was a good yarn, a bit vicious, but
good character stuff. My least favourite......
TERRY : Righty-ho, a question much asked by old comic lags
and budding artists if they get the chance: what type of material
do you draw on and has this changed at all over the years? Also,do you
use pens or brushes and what types?
MIKE : I started on Bristol Board but the smooth surface led to
rather "bland" inking. I moved on to an Ivory printing card and
things improved. For colour work I used water colour boards; these
are good but expensive. I used pens to draw the detail and finished
in ink and brush.
TERRY : Are your pencils (on strip work) rough or very precise?
MIKE : My pencils are fairiy well drawn, but not precise. They
sometimes looked better than the finished inking - a problem I
slowly improved on!
TERRY : I know what you mean ; sometimes I find that very annoying
in my own work.
Now, it was once the case that artists never met writers of the
strips they were working on - everything went through the editor - has
this been the case with you - I wondered how much of a free-hand
you had in designing the LEOPARD and the AVENGER?
MIKE : Very little contact with writers. Editors liked to hold the stage!
Nonetheless, I had a very free hand in creating the characters, usually.
Sometimes the writer would complain, but we were all so short of time
that discussion was short.
TERRY : So what was the last comic strip you drew?
MIKE : "ROY OF THE ROVERS" in the DAILY STAR.
TERRY : What a waste of an artist: If you ever want to draw one
last LEOPARD strip for the fans let me know !! I suppose that from
the time you started in comics in the early 1950s the industry has
seen major changes - for instance 2000 AD is the only 'action' comic
on the news-stands now. What do you, personally, consider to
have been the major changes?
MIKE : The adventure stories gave way to space-stuff and super-
heroes. The style changed and got better in layout. Sometimes,
the page layouts and picture arrangement confused the story-line.
The artists got more sophisticated and took the lead over the
writer - not always a good thing. 2000 AD was excellent, and rivalled
EAGLE and the strip "DAN DARE". Westerns and adventure stories
disappeared almost completely.
TERRY : I can confirm that westerns no longer exist in UK comics.
They did survive on in Europe, however, as does a greater diversity
of genre !
Is there a project you've always wanted to work on but never had
the opportunity to do so?
MIKE : I liked war-stuff and would have liked to do a desert story
with big backgrounds and strong black shadows. It would have
looked good and the layouts would have been good to draw.
TERRY : If asked, Mike, looking back over your career, what would
have been the happiest, worst and most embarassing moments - go
on : be honest!
MIKE:The best times were spent working for VALIANT and BATTLE.
The worst was trying to draw romance stuff - girls were not my best
stuff! The most embarassing was a close-up of feet, where the character
had two left feet!!
DAVY - Davy Francis
MIKE - Mike Western
MIKE : I worked at home throughout my association with AP-Fleetway-IPC
(now Fleetway again) and, as a result, avoided most of the inside politics. There
was a spell of about a year when I was banished to the wilderness when I
worked for TV EXPRESS — but I returned to the fold, when I had a long spell with BATTLE.
This meant a change of style to a more realistic type of war story and I enjoyed this greatly
— but sometimes agonised a bit over the extreme violence of this stuff. However, it was the
climate of the times and was difficult to avoid. I tried to keep the violence from becoming
positively repulsive, but I remember one BATTLE cover job which brought a
storm of letters from the parents and clerics and we had to watch things from then.
Still do these days I'm glad to say. EAGLE is fairly innocent stuff now, by comparison.
DAVY : Who first came up with the idea of the "WILD WONDERS", and who
MIKE:The story "WILD WONDERS" in VALIANT had a long run and both
the editor and the scriptwriter, Tom Tully, claimed the original idea. Certainly ,Tom
managed to get a hell of a lot of mileage out of this one — and we worked together in
an atmosphere of mutual admiration, until the very end when VALIANT was
struggling with falling circulation. We tried to revive the story at this late
stage, but it never regained its popularity and died in the flood of "hard men" stuff that
was the order of the day.
Throughout this period I was working pretty hard, introducing new stories, doing
cover series and specials and the annuals — also a set of covers for a football
comic SCORE . I never used any assistant until I took up "LEOPARD OF LIME
STREET" in BUSTER, at the same time as drawing three pages or so in BATTLE.
After a while, I was forced by the time factor to drawing just the pencils of the
"LEOPARD", and the inking was handled by Eric Bradbury, who managed to
fit this into his schedule, and it worked pretty well, as this story ran for a long
I tried the same idea later, on a four-page story for BATTLE , but it wasn't
successful, as I was inking two pages and a younger artist inked over my
pencils on the other two. But the difference in the appearance of the page,
was too obvious. Some of the blacks got lost and a sort of grey overall
effect lost the bite. My previous story, "DARKIE'S MOB" had run like cream
but this was a three-pager and all inked by me. I do feel that it is important
for the pencil, to be carried through by the same hand for a satisfying
DAVY : How long did the "WILD WONDERS" strip run for ?
MIKE.-The "WILD WONDERS" ran for around four or five years, and was
enjoyable to me throughout. I started it as a fairly straight realistic style but
over the run, Tom Tully introduced a more comic humour into the ideas -
and some of the supporting characters allowed for some tongue-in-cheek
drawing and the two lads, Rick and Charlie became quite stylised in their
appearance. I think it worked extremely well until overtaken by the
advent of the "hard man" stuff - and a change of editor brought about their sudden
end. But it was an agreeable period in my drawing life, for the years that it ran.
DAVY : Do you enjoy the other strips that you have produced?
MIKE : There have been other stories that I got a lot of pleasure from in
different ways. "JOHNNY WINGCO" in KNOCKOUT was a flying story that ran
well - and had a good atmosphere. Unfortunately my drawing at that early stage
was not strong.
"DARKIE'S MOB" and "THE SARGE" were a couple of war stories that
I tried hard on, and got some gutsy stuff in them. "THE SHRINKER" for
BUSTER gave me some good moments, too, and some of the "LEOPARD OF
LIME STREET" was nice to draw -figure-wise.
I greatly enjoyed doing some weeks of "BIGGLES" for TV EXPRESS. This
was full colour printing - and the use of colour was exhilarating.
black and white still appeals to me as the classical style for comic drawing.
From my earliest days, the sight of a bottle of black ink is tempting if there's a bit of
white paper about!
The copyright of the images and writings from the comic which have been reproduced on this non-profit
making site remain, like totally dude, with their respective writers/creators. Interviews are copyright Ian Wheeler (Interview #1) and Terry Hooper (Interviews #2 and #3). Cheers guys.