Mike -”The guv’nor”- is no longer with us but many comickers outside the UK may know nothing about him so here is an interview I did with him in 2001.
Some British comic artists had a unique style that allowed them to adapt from humour to adventure and then back to humour. In my younger days I had no idea that Mike Western was just such an artist. Neither did I know,before this interview,just how far his career went.
Here then is an interview with a British comic strip great,sadly no longer with us. A man other creators referred to as “The Guv’nor”!
Terry:Right,Mike,as is traditional in these interviews I’ll begin with the ages-old question:when and where were you born?
Mike:Southampton in 1925.
Terry:See,didn’t I say this would be easy? Tell me,as a child how interested were you in comics –did you draw your own? I suppose another related question is were you influenced by a friend or family member –art or comic-wise?
Mike:I was greatly taken with the artists on Comic Cuts,Larks,Funny Wonder,etc. –the “cheap” comics from the Amalgamated Press. I drew mostly cowboy stuff,despairing of the horses! I was impressed by caricatures in the newspapers and copied them. I had no influence from any source –just reading the comics.
Terry:Ah,those damned horses! I always wanted to draw cowboy strips but as I told anyone who would listen:without horses,cowboy strips would be more fun to draw!
But back to the interview:has any comic strip illustrator ever influenced you and,if so,whom and how?
Mike:Whilst I have admired the work of many artists Alex Raymond was a great inspiration –and the American comic books. These were my bibles when I was around eight to ten years old. Later,the French chap who did Blueberry became a source of inspiration –and endless Hollywood movies that were my enduring passion.
Terry:Right,the Blueberry artist would be Giraud. It’s a strip I first saw in the German language comic Zack back in the 1970s.
It seems a silly question now but were you a good artist –how did you get into the comic industry and can you remember your first job and the year?
Mike:I got a start in comics from a friend on Knockout in the early 1950s. I got single picture illustrations to text stories. Eventually,I got a two page strip called “Captain Phantom”.
This was followed by a Western three-pager called “Lucky Logan” which ran for a fair time. It was during the time of this series that I came close to getting the bullet!
[Note:Mike was banished “to the wilderness” for a year after working on TV Express and there was a great deal of political –n-fighting going on at Amalgamated Press but he eventually returned to work for a long time on Battle]
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!!
Terry:Sadly,I’ve got to wind this up now,despite having about a hundred more questions to ask! So,anything I’ve not touched on you’d like to mention –words for the fans?
Mike:It’s a good life,drawing picture-stories,you get characters,backgrounds and drama. What more do you want?
Terry:My sincere thanks to you,Mike,for taking time out to answer the questions,and to Gil Page for putting us back in contact with one another.
Oh,rather like John Cooper,Mike found his retirement a great opportunity to concentrate on painting -below The Charge Of The Light Brigade. And to follow -more of Mike’s great work -enjoy!