Modern Toss Q&A

Jon Link and Mick Bunnage have created a tidal wave of filth with their cult cartoons Modern Toss. We call them into the office and ask them what the hell is going on.
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A long long time ago before many of you were born I was squashed into the backseat of a car with a band called the Deep Freeze Mice, the bloke I was sitting on was the bassist, his name was Mick. He had a sort of Sixties Byrds style bob haircut and he drew cartoons for a fanzine the band did, the fanzine was called Biggles Up the Fosse. They were from Leicester. That's all I remember. The bloke started sending me cartoons and funny family trees for my own fanzine, which was certainly a great deal funnier for it. We stayed in touch. When I started loaded magazine I gave the bloke a ring and suggested instead of writing the occasional piece about chiropody and Essex for another uptight magazine he come and be funny in my new mag. He arrived when we were still developing it and suggested we have a bloke who gave out bad advice and a chart highlighting people who've been behaving badly. These became 'Dr Mick' and 'Platinum Rogues', two of the most popular pages in loaded. Mick had a fascination with people who put their foot in it without realising, people like Michael Winner.

Around the same time another bloke walked into the office with a black Pea Jacket and a face like an axe. The Art Director, Steve, said to me "This is the bloke I want to assist me". To be honest Jon, as he was known, looked a little bit like he worked on the roads or in a harbour or something. But he had a few record sleeve designs in a portfolio and Steve was adamant about hiring him, so we let the other bloke we'd offered the job to down and Jon was in.

That was that, they were both integral members of a great and successful magazine. Mick was very funny and dry and the bloke I always turned to for a final call on something if I wasn't sure about the tone, the Consigliere. Jon was just mental and spent a lot of time writing on his computer in Tippex, throwing fans about and climbing round the office furniture with his immediate boss Steve.

So here they are on the verge of their first London exhibition.

How long has Modern Toss been going and how did you start working together?

M&J: It's been going about 8 years. It started off as a website and a series of little drawings Jon did in a pub about a man who was walking his dog through the park with a long tube of shit coming out it's arse. We instantly knew we could build an international business on the basis of it.

That one was in the first issue. Though Jon did do a full 7 foot long oil painting version of it later on. We actually started working together in the early days of loaded when it was exciting and no one knew what the fuck they were doing. The strategy there was that any two people might be able to come up with something useful, where as one person left alone would probably just wander off to the shops.

Had either of you done cartoons before?

M. Yes I used to draw cartoons for business magazines and trade publications. People used to ring up on a Friday evening and say 'can we have six cartoons about portable fridges, or the benefits of racking up your citrus fruit intake - and can we have it by Monday, alright?'

J: I was trying to get cartoons into Private Eye from about the age of 12, they used to send them back with a slip of paper saying 'try Punch'.

is it true Mick's dad drew the logo for Whizzer and Chips and Cor?

M: Yes he did. Though they didn't call a logo in those days, they called it 'the word at the top' or something. Cor! had an exclamation mark on the end, and a monkey in a schoolcap was shouting it. Bit scary that. My dad didn't do the monkey. He was the lettering artist at Fleetway Comics. All through the late 60's/ 70's he worked on Valiant, Buster, Whoopee, Roy of the Rovers all of them. Everything was done by hand then with a  brush or pen and the comic title was re-drawn all the time. They'd maybe whack a bit of snow on it for Christmas annuals, Rabbits for Easter etc etc. He was always sat at his drawing board painting words in big letters. Jag, that was another one he did. I think he liked a lot of red on a bit of a slant, with drop shadow and go-faster scorch lines - that was his trademark style. He was always surrounded by stacks of half pencilled cartoon pages as part of his job was inking the words in the speech bubbles. It was mental I suppose. Now you'd just press a button and wander off to take some crack or something I suppose. Him and his colleagues wore ties and safari jackets at work and they all looked like Richard Briers, sort of mischievous. Brilliant!

What were your favourite comics and comic characters as kids?

M: I wasn't that bothered about comics to be honest. I preferred watching the Flintstones and Wacky Races.

J: I'm not a massive comic fan either, I prefer single panel cartoons.

What were the first cartoons either of you had printed?

J: I did get one into Private Eye in the end, when i was 33.

M: I remember the first thing I did at loaded was a cartoon of a man standing next to his broken car and another man saying 'I'm from the AA can I get you drink or something?'.  I did it on the bus on the way in.

Did you like the Giles books you'd find in dentists waiting rooms and rented holiday flats?

M&J: Giles was good at getting a lot of minute detail into his pictures, A bit too much really. There was shit going on all over the place. We sort of do the opposite. We boil it right done to the bones and draw it out with a thick pencil. Its more direct like that. Plus it's quicker. Its like being attacked with a poleaxe. Some people prefer that, given the option. One of our favourites is George and Lynne.

Had any of the characters appeared in any other form before? It said in The Independent that Alan was originally a drawing of the magazine publisher and poet Felix Dennis.

J: Yes it's true that Felix Dennis' unusual look and bodily structure inspired the look of Alan. I think he'd be pleased with that.

You did Office Pest in loaded, what was that inspired by?

M&J: Experimental violence in the workplace. We were strongly in favour of it at the time.

It pre-dated The Office by years didn't it?

M&J: Yeah but they had more talking.

Did you have any luck in finding copies of it after your recent appeal on your site?

M&J: Quite a few were sent in, it reminded a lot of people that they had a pile of old loaded magazines in their loft, refreshingly a lot were cut out with scissors and sent in by post.

Would you do another clip-art strip?

M&J: We've developed a new range of greetings cards called 'Stroller',  although not clip art, all the images are re-drawn from a 1970's visual reference system using photo's of people doing everyday things  taken from every possible angle and most of the women are naked. we're looking to do a whole comic with it later in the year.

You were both in bands - tell us about them.

M: I played bass in a band called the Deep Freeze Mice. We were what you'd call a psychedelic pop band. We made 10 albums and managed to do it without anyone noticing, which would be probably be almost impossible now what with everyone being so nosy about everything new. It was quite challenging stuff to be honest, as none of us knew how to play our instruments or what the fuck we were doing. By the end we were really good. Coincidentally the multi platinum shifting US indie band MGMT have just cited the mice as a key influence on their new album 'Congratulations' ( described by one critic as "commercial suicide") which is great news as we thought no one alive on earth had ever heard of us.

J: i was in a dodgy R&B Mod band, we only played cover versions, our peak was when we played the 100 club, we got a review in Sounds and they implied it was shit.

Did you both design record sleeves?

J: My first job was designing record sleeves, I helped out on the Shamen sleeves in the early 90's and my proudest moment was putting a barcode on the back of an Erasure cover in a speech bubble coming out of a dolphins mouth. Just before I joined loaded I reached an all time low when I lost a pitch for the design of Bill Tarmey's (Jack Duckworth) Greatest Hits.

Many of your characters are very destructive, who are your heroes of bad behaviour?

J: i was lucky enough to see Oliver Reed live on After Dark, that for me was the Mount Everest of bad behaviour

J: I can't be arsed with bad behaviour any more. I reckon we could do with a few more spitfire pilots.

Do you have particular people you borrow from for your material? Are there real people uttering these lines and you write them down?

M&J: Yes, there's an unpluggable well of mentalness out in the real world. Get shot of all those comedians on panel shows. The people right next to you in pubs and offices are all you need to keep you entertained forever.

What is the quickest you've conceived and drawn a cartoon?

M&J: A couple of seconds for an inspired 'Work' cartoon. Thats the record. Alan takes longer because of all the pencil work.

Typically when do you write the best stuff?

M&J: Probably when we're working on something specific like a book, we're quite systematic about it. It also helps if we're in the same room. We quite often come up with the same jokes at the same time. That's quite hard to do when you're emailing each other. We're also quite good at coming up with stuff when someone else thinks of a subject and we have to clear up the mess so to speak. In a way the more boring the brief is the better our jokes are.

How do you work?

M&J: On the phone mostly. All day, every day.

Do you have a preferred biscuit, snack and drink to keep you going whilst working?

M&J: Yeah we get through a lot of shit when we're thinking. Jon went through a phase of piling through bags of unsalted nuts. He'd bring 'em up from Brighton and we'd pile the fuck into them. Then we'll have some tea and we'll smack into a pack of Hobnobs or whatever. We'd tried heavy drinking for a bit, to jolt the system, but it didn't work for us. We just went a bit quiet. We've started working in the canteen of the British Musuem recently. Its inspiring watching people from all over the world eating expensive snacks.

What's your favoured pens to draw with?

M&J: Big fat 2B's or biro's- they really capture the mood. We draw as fast as we think, so you can't tit about with housepaint brushes.

Comedic influences please?

J: Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films, that's the big one for me.

M: Tony Hancock in The Rebel. I've got that playing in my head a lot of the time.

Banksy, David Baddiel, Jamie Hewlett are all fans - what other celebrities have bought your work?

M&J: Damon Albarn went for a Tourette 'Spunk Drinking Festival' print when we did that Santa's Ghetto thing a few years ago. We've also heard that Rhys Ifans once ordered a box full of our books to be delivered to the set of a film he was working on to cheer everyone up. That's top work. Fuck knows what the film was. Probably that one he did with Hugh Grant. Mackenzie Crook did some voices for us on the Work and Space Argument sketches. He'd already bought some of our comics and volunteered to get involved. So he knew what he was letting himself in for

You had 'Friends of Modern Toss' supporting the work from the start by paying in advance in return for their names in the comics. How many friends do you now have and what other benefits do they enjoy?

M&J: We have just enough of the hardcore 'Friends of Modern Toss' to pay the printers bill for each comic, they get to know first about all the new shit that we make. It's down to them that we keep going. So it's all their fault really.

Any plans for Peanut The Mod Band to re-appear?

M&J: Yeah we love Peanut. It's been our pet film project for ages. Psychopaths in polo necks. Their creative talents are so focused on killing each other that they never get round to playing any music. The amount of limb loss they've inflicted on each other now is so extreme that they can't even hold their instruments. If only other bands would settle their differences in the same way.

If there was a feature film which actors would you fancy playing which characters?

M&J: Dunno really...Jeremy Irons, Danny de Vito, Paul Kaye, Patsy Kensit. Maybe that's another project.

Mick you created and wrote the Dr Mick agony uncle column for loaded in it's heyday, do you ever hanker for dishing out a bit of bad advice and who would you see Dr Mick drinking with in Tossland?

M&J: Yes I liked doing the Dr Mick thing because he always said the opposite of whatever i really thought. People did really think he was real, which is great. I remember Howard Marks introducing me to one of his mates as Dr Mick once which was funny and sort of completed the circle a bit in a surreal way. I once started sketching out the idea for an airport potboiler with Dr Mick at the centre of it all. It was a James Bond type thing where he gets involved in running a space brothel with his brother Charles Mick QC. Good job I stopped. I might have another look at it.

Modern Toss has appeared on TV, Greetings Cards, magazines, books and various bits of merchandising but have you been offered any commercial tie-ins you've turned down?

M&J: We never turn anything down if we can help it. We're from Essex.

What would be your ultimate commercial association?

M&J: BP? Tourette's just waiting for the call .

You're building a massive fly for the exhibition tell us a bit about that and how much will it be on sale for?

M&J: We were in the British Museum one afternoon, checking out all the Greek and Roman stuff, Easter Island relics, Rosseta Stone etc you get the picture. and it occurred to us that the fly was really under-represented, so we thought maybe we've found a gap in the market. Pricewise we're still totting up the materials, its not going to be cheap though.

Any other new work at the exhibition?

M&J: The 'Periodic Table of Swearing' is one to look out for, as is the 'Punctuation Networking Event', where a bracket loses his partner and has an argument with a question mark. There will also be two new coin operated pictures, where you have to put money in to see what's going on. If you're sick of people coming round to your house and looking at the pictures on your walls for free, this should go someway to sorting that out.

And you're having a poetry shouting aren't you?

That's right the voice behind the Drive By Abuser character will be belting out poems from our recent Drive By Abuser collected thoughts book. July 1st. It will be a pretty intense, challenging 12-15 minutes. Full throttle but with a hint of the delusional. See you there yeah?

Modern Toss, Maverick Showroom, Redchurch Street, London E2 22 June to 11 July