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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mike Knowles

(* Mike Knowles dropped me a line recently noting that he was a fellow Starblazer writer. In fact, Mike's contribution to that series far outweighed mine: not only was he there at the beginning, he also created one of the most enduring characters of the whole series: Carter. Being my usual nosey self, I asked Mike for a little background to his comic writing career... and here is his response.)

I started back in the late 70’s writing for women’s confessional magazines. Supposedly true stories about jilted brides and unmarried teenage mothers. If you thought they were written by the protagonists, think again! A good analogy would be those sex phone chats where, unknown to the gullible caller, it’s actually some old woman supplementing her pension. So forget Anne Summers underwear. We’re talking corsets and wrinkled tights! My sob stories must have had some merit because they were republished in German magazines with the result that I got paid twice for them!

Then, one day, I came across an ad in the Manchester Evening News stating that D. C. Thomson were looking for artists and writers. I’d always loved comics so I wrote to them. They replied with a short booklet and suggested I try writing something for Commando. Whereas later on when I became a regular writer, Thomson would give me story ideas, on Commando you had to first sell an idea to them. If accepted you then had to supply a two-three page outline of the story. And, once that hurdle was passed, you were then allowed to write the script. I can’t remember the name of the first story I did. I do recall the lead character was called Vic and he was a con man and a coward. And it ended with an exploding truck and a fiery death. But then I’ve always preferred to approach my writing from a different angle.

After I had a few stories under my belt I sent in an idea for their weekly comic called Bullet. It was called 'The Hammer of Vulkan' and was set in Russia in WW2 involving a German punishment battalion. They liked it and, before very long, I was getting invited to annual editorial meetings where two of their editors would travel across the country to wine and dine their writers and artists. At the meeting I would supply some story ideas of my own and they would give me some of theirs. So I usually ended up with four or five. All of them two or three page spreads. Bullet became Warlord and I was happily writing for 'Union Jack Jackson', Sergeant Ryker, '3 Men in a Jeep' and the rest of them. I also started writing for the Dandy and Beano and became a regular contributor to the Dandy Comic Library and Beano Comic Library, (I’d get free copies so my two young sons were never without something to read! It also gave me an opportunity to bring back some old characters like 'Keyhole Kate' (these days it would be accused of turning kids into Peeping Toms, forgetting of course that children are naturally nosy) and 'Pansy Potter the Strong Man’s Daughter'. I also recall getting long letters from the editor, (his name escapes me), which he’d written on office notepaper in red biro. We would exchange jokes and work out story lines. It was a great time.

No satisfied with my current workload, (I was also writing sketches and quickies for TV and radio, writing for a live satirical show in Manchester and did a stint as a gag writer), I tried my hand at the girl’s papers, Bunty and Mandy. (My poor wife must have wondered if I was going down the transgender route). But no, there was method to my madness! This meant a separate meeting with the girl’s paper editors and an additional annual meal in a posh pub or hotel. Being canny Scots who are not noted for their financial generosity, they must have rued the day they accepted my work! “Och!” I can hear them saying in the boardroom. “This Sassenach will mek us bankrupt!” Then one day I had a letter from a Thomson editor called Bill McLaughlin asking me to meet me in Manchester. There he told me they were launching Starblazer and he was getting a team of artists and writers together. In an interview on downthetubes.net, he writes...
In September 1978 the go ahead was given to publish the comic and authors and artists sought out. The response to adverts was immense and finally we settled on a coterie we knew we could rely on: Ray Aspden, Mel Chappell, Rob Carter, John Speer, Mike Knowles and John Radford to name but a few. These stalwarts were ably supported by Alan Rogers and Grant Morrison, who both scripted and drew their own stories.
This first one I did was Holocaust Hogan and then there was The Web of Arcon which was inspired by a Space 1999 episode! I also created Carter the Mandroid which, I think, was based on Robocop! Thus doing my bit to keep plagiarism alive and well! Later on I also worked for Fleetway and the chief editor, Bob Paynter, asked me to write for half the characters in Buster and half in Whizzer and Chips! I also produced some computer artwork created, believe it or not, on a 250K Amstrad PCW using some DTP software! If Sugar knew about this he’ll probably invite me to join him on The Apprentice. Bob also sent me to Manchester to meet Patrick Gallgaher, Tony Husband and Mark Rodgers who had come up with an idea for a comic called Oink! I went to the launch party but, with all the other work I was doing, I couldn’t do as much for them as I would have liked to. I did, however, create the eponymous Billy Bang. I didn’t have time to create a complex character, so Billy was a kid who literally exploded with anger. Thus coining a new phenomena: Spontaneous Human Fulmination! Billy also manage to overcome the rigid law of entropy, reforming himself after each blast. I think someone said this was the worst strip in the comic and I must confess they weren’t far wrong! 

Nowadays I’m relaxing like the proverbial pig in ordure, devoting my time to, amongst other things, hacking into computer games and creating a free comic called, The Halfpenny Dreadful Comic.  The first issue is almost complete. After lengthy negotiations at diplomatic level involving a whoopee cushion and some black puddings, the comic has been kindly sponsored by Kim Jong Un and contains such earthly delights as the world’s worst misogynist and the result of a second autopsy on Elvis Presley.

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