When I first started drawing comix, I made them up as I went along. I would spend the first half hour drawing the title of the strip while I thought about what to draw next. As I didn't know what the strip was about at that point, I couldn't give it a title, so I invented the silliest generic title I could, so as to have something to draw for that first half hour. Large Cow Comix. Since then the title has attached to other projects of mine, and is now the name of my website. That's why.
I was born in Newcastle on Tyne in 1952, and was a child in a village called Walbottle, and a teenager in Blaydon. I've drawn cartoons all my life, although I didn't at first think about doing it seriously. I came to Birmingham as a Fine Art student in 1971, but I quit college after a year, realising that, whatever else I was, I wasn't an Artist. Around that time I met people in Birmingham who were involved with the Underground Press, and I first started seeing magazines like Oz, Frendz, Muther Grumble and IT, and comic books by Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Jay Lynch, Rick Griffin, and so on. As if a light had come on I realised what I wanted to do with my life, and I set about learning how to do comics.
I worked at various jobs in order to allow me to draw at night. I was a postman, a library assistant, I worked in the local prison (doing office work), and eventually found a job at the Polytechnic running a small printing machine. In printing I saw a way that I could link earning a living with doing what I wanted to do; draw comix. My first comics were printed on that machine, in editions of 20 or 30, and deposited in a few head shops and record shops. I spent six years working at the Birmingham Arts Lab, with the printing press there, doing design, layout, darkroom, and machine operating, all on shoestring finances in hair-raising circumstances. It taught me a lot about production deadlines and the need to make quick design decisions. At the Arts Lab I was part of the group known as Ar-zak publishing British underground comics in the mid 70s. I was also drawing more and more comic strips, which were being published - mostly unpaid - in independent comic books all over the place: in Britain, America, and some in Europe. And I was picking up freelance illustration work, to the extent that in 1979 I was able to become a fulltime freelance cartoonist.
I did some, but not many, advertising commissions, and contributed spot illustrations to a host of magazines including Melody Maker, Radio Times, Which Bike?, Time Out, Pink, Razzle... for a while my cartoons were like a rash on the publishing world. In 1980 or '81 I was offered a "regular gig" by Galaxy Publications drawing FIRKIN THE CAT, a two-page comic that is still running in Fiesta magazine. It's written by Tym Manley, and is a bawdy, chaotic, hilarious comic about sex. I also began my association with Fortean Times around then. FT is the leading monthly journal of unexplained phenomena, and I first drew illustrations for issue number 8 (I think). Since around 1995 or 96 I've drawn and written a monthly comic page called PHENOMENOMIX (you have to take a run at it) about Weird Stuff. FIRKIN and FT, and, since 2002, The Beano, are now my main clients, and extra work tends to be of a specialist nature - for example, the comic books published by the Ruskin Foundation dealing with the ideas of 19th century artist, writer, critic and political theorist John Ruskin.
Knockabout Comics was formed in 1979 by Tony and Carol Bennett to publish and distribute underground, minority interest comics and books. They asked me to be involved from the start, and most of my comic books have been published with them. Together we put into print CALCULUS CAT, MAX ZILLION & ALTO EGO, PILGRIM, PUSSPUSS, THUNDERDOGS, LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, and DANTE'S INFERNO among other titles. Knockabout were famous for their book launch parties. Two that come to mind are the party for my ANCIENT MARINER on a Thames-side floating bar, complete with blow-up albatrosses on string, to be hung around necks, and that for CASANOVA'S LAST STAND, in the mansion built by Bertie, Prince of Wales for his mistress Lily Langtree, when I had to wear impossibly hot and heavy 18th century coat and breeches, wig and tricorn hat. I also have scary memories of crazy jaunts in France, Finland and Soviet Russia...but alas, those tales must await another telling.
Today I'm still living in Birmingham, within a quarter of a mile of where I landed in 1971. I share a rambling old house with my dear partner Jane and three cats (Moonlight, Ali Umbaye and Mrs. Cat). I run a T'ai Chi class, and I play guitar and sing in a rock and blues band called The Hound Dogs. I like pottering in the garden, reading about ancient history, seeing friends, and living as quiet a life as possible thankyou very much. Like most cartoonists, I work crazy hours.
(2013 Update. Moonlight and Mrs. Cat have passed away.)
(2015 Update. Sadly, Ali Umbaye has also gone now. I still miss him.)
(Also, The Hound Dogs are now defunct. Getting a bit old for all that malarky. It was starting to feel very like "dad dancing".)
Comics make me laugh, even the ones that are supposed to be dark, grim and gritty. To have been able to work in this fun-palace medium for so long is an incredible privilege, and to have met and worked with so many inventive, talented creators involved with comics is beyond comment. I hope my comics make you laugh, at least sometimes - that is the greatest honour a cartoonist can achieve.