It was the spring of 1985 and my wife Jill and I were renting a small one bedroom-flat in Fulham, London, having returned from Australia where we’d met, and Papua New Guinea where we were married (a story for another time). She’s a scouser by the way, not an Aussie!
We had both started out in our careers as journalists but now Jill was running a recruitment agency and I was working freelance shifts for tabloid national newspapers, which in those days were still based in bustling Fleet Street.
Sometimes I would do shifts as a sub-editor (essentially writing headlines and checking and cutting stories to fit) and occasionally I would work with the page designers on The Sun’s art desk. And that’s where Striker first became a twinkle in my eye.
In those days the Daily Mirror ran a comic strip called Garth and The Sun ran a strip called Axa, which I had the privilege of admiring in its original size as the strips were processed every day. The artwork was fantastic and rekindled the passion I had had for art and comics at school – where the career advisers had told me to forget about a career as an artist and to put my feet back on the ground.
And that was it. From that moment I decided I wanted to write and draw a comic rather than remain as a journalist. There was just one problem – having drawn very little since leaving school, my artistic ability was way short of what it needed to be.
Undeterred, I spent the next few months in that Fulham flat obsessively drawing anything and everything. I drew lamps in the living room; I tried copying strips of Garth from the Daily Mirror. Jill thought I’d taken leave of my senses because I’d never previously expressed a passion for comics and I was also neglecting my newspaper shifts, so money was becoming tight.
Fortunately the work situation became more stable when The Sun offered me a full-time job on the art desk, which I accepted. But I was still obsessively practicing my drawing skills at home.
Finally, in the autumn of 1985, I decided to show my comic creation to Kelvin MacKenzie, the then editor of The Sun. It was about a young apprentice engineer called Nick Jarvis who gets a chance to play professional football. I thought Striker was as good a name as any.
Why a football strip? It wasn’t that I had a particular passion for football but I’d decided that if my badly-drawn strip was going to have any chance of being accepted, it would have to be different to the usual sci-fi fantasy and adventure strips that were the norm.
I’d showed the first few strips to my mates in a pub in Chelsea before showing it to Kelvin. I think they thought I was as mad as Jill did but they encouraged me to give it a go.
Kelvin was a tyrannical ogre of an editor, but he was a fair man in that he would take the time to bollock anyone from the tea boy to his deputy. I honestly don’t know what he thought when I showed him those strips as he sat behind his desk. The drawings were terrible but I was deluded enough to think they were passable.
Kelvin pulled a face as he looked at the last of the six strips I’d showed him. “I don’t know,” he said, “is there going to be any shagging in it?”
I hadn’t previously given that possibility a great deal of thought, but at that moment I decided there and then that there would be.
And that’s how Striker started. It was down to the whim of an editor who took a chance to replace a brilliantly drawn strip - Axa - with one that looked like it been sketched by someone holding a pen in his fist. No other editor would have given Striker a second thought.
I never thought Striker would last so I decided to hold on to my day job. After The Sun’s turbulent move to Wapping in 1986, and with Striker still going and me doing two jobs, I went to see Kelvin and asked if I could quit the art desk to concentrate on Striker. He wished me luck and said if it didn’t work out I could have my job back. I thanked him and asked for one more favour – could I possibly have a pay rise?
Kelvin patted me on the back as he showed me the door. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said, “you go and learn to draw and I’ll give you a pay rise.”
Of course, there’s far more to the story than I can squeeze into one page – and I’ll describe it in more detail when we bring out the first book of Striker: The Complete Collection, for this Christmas. It will cover the black and white years from 1985 to 1990 and will have a bumper 288 pages of terrible drawings!
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