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Lew Stringer - Artist 1988 to 1996
Lew Stringer started his Buster apprenticeship at a young age, as one of the many weekly readers to the comic. Venturing into comics in the late 1970s, his first professional cartoon was sold to Marvel UK appearing in The Daredevils comic in 1983.
Lew joined the team of Oink when it launched in 1986 where Tom Thug & Peteís Pimple jumped across to Buster for the merger in 1988. Whilst with Buster Lew gave us The Vampire Brats and did the research and artwork for Specky Hectorís History of Comics.
Since Buster folded Lew has worked on Sonic the Comic and writes and draws Team Toxic for Toxic magazine. He has also seen his Brickman creation achieve success in America.
Lew, firstly thanks for sparing the time to talk to us. Did you ever believe when you were reading and latterly working for Buster that its popularity would still be strong in 2010?
Well Iím not sure about my contributions but Iíve always thought Buster would remain a favourite amongst collectors. Itís one of those iconic Fleetway comics isnít it? Up there with Lion, Tiger, and Valiant.
Your strips are clearly fondly remembered by visitors to our site. What do you think makes them so special?
Thanks for the compliment but I donít know if theyíre particularly special. I tried to make them a little bit different to the standard ďkid with gimmickĒ theme that appeared in most IPC funnies. Tom Thug was slightly more complex than the usual humour character in that he had his parents pulling him in different directions. His Dad wanted him to be a bully but his Mum wanted him to be a nice boy, which fleshed his personality out slightly more than some of the other characters in the comic.
When did you start producing comic strips?
When I was seven my Mum was in hospital for a while and I went to live with my Grandad for a few weeks. He gave me a pen and paper so I could draw to pass the time and I started making up my own comic strips about family pets. Iíve never stopped since then really! When I left school I worked in an office of a mining company for four years but the lure of comics was too great and I quit that job to pursue cartooning as a career.
How many of the characters your drew for Oink and Buster were of your own creation?
Tom Thug, Pete and His Pimple, Ham Dare (drawn by the late Malcolm Douglas), and numerous one-off characters. Pigswilla and The Vampire Brats were created by Mark Rogers (sadly no longer with us).
Tell us about the day you discovered Oink was to be no more, was it instantly clear that Tom Thug & Peteís Pimple were on the move?
I knew Oink was in trouble about halfway through its run when they changed the frequency to weekly, and once it went monthly its fate was inevitable. It was still a massive disappointment when it folded though. I canít remember exactly when IPC decided to transfer Tom Thug and Pete and His Pimple over to Buster . It was probably quite a late decision, whilst the final issue of Oink was in production.
Youíve often said that Peteís Pimple was a lot tamer in Buster, did this create any challenges for you?
Not really. If anything it freshened the strip up a bit as I was no longer relying on the big zit burst to climax the strip. Sadly although Pete had been very popular with Oink readers it really bombed with the younger Buster audience. Not surprising really as a seven year old canít really relate to zits!
Tom Thug became hugely popular during the Buster years. What do you think was it about him that readers loved?
The idea behind Tom was to produce a strip for all the kids who had been bullied at school. No one likes a bully but unfortunately they often get away with it. So with Tom Thug the reader could see the bully get his comeuppance every week in exaggerated slapstick ways. I hope it was cathartic for the readers to see the bully lose out. I know at times Tom Thug has been compared to Dennis the Menace, but theyíre completely different. Tom isnít an anti-hero, heís the villain of the story. Readers laugh with Dennis but they laugh at Tom. At least that was the intention.
You also did a lot of work in the early 1990s on the Specky Hector strips. Was this something Fleetway requested?
No, Specky Hector Comics Collector was my creation. I suggested the idea to the editor, Allen Cummings, and he was very keen on it. It was good fun to do and I hope it gave readers a little insight into the history of comics.
You watched Fleetway shrink over the years you worked with them. Was there a sense of inevitability that the end was nigh?
Yes it was becoming inevitable that the era of the old style of humour comic was ending but Iíd hoped it would be the start of a new era of modern comics. Sadly it just saw the publishers move into childrenís magazines instead but Iím grateful that I could continue producing strips for them in mags such as Toxic.
Do you remember which was the last Tom Thug strip you drew?
Yes, issue dated 9th July 1996. I didnít know it was going to be the last when I scripted it but heard I the axe was falling just before I was about to draw it. So I added a few final touches: Pete is in there as a juggler, minus his pimples (heís finally cured!), Iím in the foreground to panel three and my dogís in panel seven. I also counted up how many Tom Thug strips Iíd done for all the comics, annuals and specials and put the figure beside my signature, - Iíd done 440 Tom strips in total.
How did you find out that Tom Thug was heading into reprints?
Allen Cummings rang me up one day and gave me the bad news. (Not his fault. Orders came from above.) Iíd seen it coming as more and more reprint was filling up the comic. I think reprints are always a bad idea to save costs as older strips donít date well. Readers know if a strip is reprint as the environment the characters are in looks dated, even if itís just little things like the size of mobile phones or showing characters using video cassettes instead of DVDs. Generally kids donít like old stuff. Some do, but many donít, so I feel reprints donít really work in a childrenís comic.
Who did you really enjoy working with and admire during your Fleetway years?
Allen Cummings was a fantastic editor. A really nice guy and very professional. He was always on the ball making any script changes (not that there were that many) and he was open to new ideas such as the History of Buster pull-out I compiled. We used to talk on the phone quite often and it was a great shame when Buster was suddenly cancelled. Allen had worked for Fleetway since 1963 and I know he was gutted that it ended so abruptly.
Mark Rogers was a brilliant writer. Very creative and sharp. I enjoyed working with him on Oink! and his Vampire Brats scripts on Buster were great too. Then Mark fell ill, and asked me to write the Brats for a while. (Later, Roy Davis took over the scripts.) Sadly Mark died of cancer several years ago, far too young.
Of everything youíve written (not just for Buster) whatís your personal highlight?
Tom Thug remains a favourite, as does Combat Colin that I did for Marvel UK. Iím proud of all the strips Iíve done though but it was a personal pleasure to be involved with Buster as I used to read it when I was a kid. Then to become part of its history, and with a character that went down very well with the readers, it was definitely a highlight.
And is there anything you wish had been down to you?
In Buster? Not really as I achieved what I wanted to do in the comic and was proud to be amongst great artists such as Jack Oliver and Reg Parlett. It would have been nice to have written some adventure strips but unfortunately Buster had dropped those by the time I joined the comic.
Egmont (who now own the Fleetway rights) issued a Buster special last year. Were you a little disappointed to find Tom Thug had been overlooked?
Initially yes but once I discovered from your website that it was only focusing on the 1970s it became obvious why Tom Thug wouldnít be in there. (Tom being a 1980s character.) Hopefully if they do a 1980s edition perhaps Tom will be included.
How do you think historians will sum up the work of Lew Stringer when the entire Buster catalogue is unearthed from a time capsule in 1000 years?
Blimey, Iíve no idea. Hopefully theyíll regard the work as entertaining, which is all Iíve ever aimed for really.
Lew thanks so much for talking to us!
You can look at Lew's work since leaving Buster on his website and keep track of comic news at Lew's Blog too!
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