-


Three Mike Western Interviews


Western




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 !


INTERVIEW #1

Mike Western didn't particularly set out to be comic artist.
' 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 career?
'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.'
I 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 people's faces.
'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 BATTLE stories.
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 fascinating answers.





INTERVIEW #2



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 comics?

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!!






INTERVIEW #3


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 scripted it?

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 time, too.

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 ink job.


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.

However 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!



Back to Main Page

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.