Beano artist heads to our shores | Lew Stringer

We speak to veteran British artist Lew Stringer ahead of his visit to Malta Comic Con next weekend. Stringer’s work for Marvel and DC put him on the map, but local audiences will be attuned to his more recent stint at The Beano, the weekly British humour comic that is something of a UK institution. 

Lew Stringer: “The future lies in graphic novels and digital comics rather than the old weekly format”
Lew Stringer: “The future lies in graphic novels and digital comics rather than the old weekly format”
Lew Stringer is one of the artists of the beloved British weekly comic strip, the Beano
Lew Stringer is one of the artists of the beloved British weekly comic strip, the Beano

What was the comics scene in Britain like when you first started out? How did it change over the years? 

There were a lot more comics around in the UK in 1983 than there are today. IPC and DC Thomson were big rivals and both companies were producing several humour and adventure weeklies. Marvel UK were producing various reprint comics but they were also doing brand new British strips such as Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis in ‘The Daredevils’ monthly (the comic where I sold my first cartoon to).

Yet even in the 1980s the British comics market was getting weaker than it had been. There was a gradual shift from weekly frequency (which had always been the norm for decades) to more fortnightly and monthly titles.

Publishers were also starting to do more comics related to licensed properties, toys, TV shows, and suchlike. Over the years that has become the norm. These days most comics and magazines for children are related to a licensed character, and carry more activity pages than comic strip. On a more positive note, we’ve seen a growth in graphic novels, and more independent small press titles. I think the future lies in graphic novels and digital comics rather than the old weekly format. The Beano still survives of course, 76 years on and still weekly, and 2000AD keeps going every Wednesday!

How would you describe your transition from the world of fanzines into professional comics? Do you think a similar ‘jump’ is possible for aspiring creators today – were you to replace fanzines with webcomics and other opportunities afforded by the internet?

I found that doing my fanzines in the late 1970s and early 1980s was very useful in developing my style and receiving feedback. It also gave potential editors a chance to see what I could do, and some of my early professional work came about because of that. Several of us started out that way. I think it’s definitely still possible today, and I’m sure it happens, but there are less regular British comics around for new creators to break into the professional comics field, so it must be frustrating. On the other hand, there seem to be more opportunities for UK creators to have work published overseas now. The internet makes everything more accessible, and as we send our pages by e-mail or Dropbox it doesn’t really matter where the publisher is located.

Working in comics must require a fine balance of inspiration and perspiration, in that you would be expected to produce high-quality work in a relatively short period of time, month in month out (or week in week out, as the case may be). How do you meet this challenge?

It can be very stressful at times. At the moment I have my regular deadlines for The Beano, Toxic, and Doctor Who Magazine plus extra pages to do for the Dandy and Beano annuals that will be out next autumn! You just have to put in long hours and get it done. I don’t have any family now so I focus entirely on my work. I try not to turn paid work down because freelancing can be a rocky road sometimes.

Having worked with both British and American publishers, what would you say is the difference between the two, in terms of work ethic and professional expectations? 

I haven’t noticed a lot of difference really. I haven’t done a lot for America yet. With the Brickman pages I did for Image’s ‘Elephantmen’ the editor was Richard Starkings, who is from the UK, and who was my editor back in the 1980s when he was at Marvel UK, so that was like old times. More recently, I’ve done a couple of pages for Dark Horse for the new series of Grindhouse, and they’ve great to work for.

How did it feel to join the ranks of Beano? Did you sense that you were partaking in what could be considered a UK ‘national treasure’, and the attendant pressures or expectations that come with that?

Yes, although I’d worked for dozens of comics before that, The Beano is such a national institution that it does feel quite a privilege to work for it. I’m very proud to be part of its long history, and that of The Dandy. Both comics were favourites of mine as a child in the 1960s, so to actually work for them is great.

Are you looking forward to participating at the Malta Comic Con?

Yes, very much so. I’ve visited Malta twice before, for holidays, but that was a long time ago. I like the country and I’m looking forward to the event, and doing character sketches. I’m very interested in seeing what the comics scene is like in Malta. From the pages I’ve seen online the quality looks very high.

Malta Comic Con will take place on November 29 and 30 at St James Cavalier, Valletta. For more information log on to The event is organised by Wicked Comics