Monday, 3 January 2022

"Woke" or Natural Progression?

For something new in '22 I thought that as well as showing pages of my work I'd also write ocassional articles about the comics industry itself and how (or if) any changes or situations affect my place in it.

As you may have heard, about a month ago Spotty of The Bash Street Kids had a permanent name change to Scotty (as his full name is James Scott Cameron). The Beano script by Andy Fanton was handled really well and made sense in its context, with 'Spotty' being fed up having that nickname and a series of events that eventually led to the other kids accepting his real name. 

The precedent had been set several months earlier when 'Fatty' changed to 'Freddy'. These slight name changes made no difference to the storylines because Freddy still likes his food and Scotty's stories were very rarely about him having spots anyway. (Personally, I'd always assumed they were freckles. Ten year olds don't usually suffer from acne!) 

Typically the media got hold of these changes and did their usual thing to stir up people who hadn't read the Beano in decades. Cries of "too woke" and "snowflakes" were posted online by people who hadn't even seen the strips and whose lives wouldn't be affected in the slightest by children's comics. 

Let's face it; nicknames have always been pretty childish haven't they? Can we move on from name calling?

I should make it clear that although I freelance for the Beano, these opinions are entirely my own. I'm not on staff and I'm not representing Beano or D.C. Thomson. As it happens I can understand why the changes were made and they really aren't anything to get irate about. Society has always been in an ongoing state of change. Being "woke" merely means to be more mindful and aware of the feelings of others. It's a shame that some see that as a bad thing! 

Obviously whenever there are changes in society there will be some who'll take things to the extreme, but overall, such changes are well measured and beneficial. After all, it's not as though we all woke up and it suddenly wasn't 1970 anymore is it? The changes have been very gradual over many years and most of us have adapted over time because anything that makes this world a bit less cruel has to be a good thing, right?

As most of you know, I wasn't adverse to poking fun at "spotty" people myself, particularly in the pages of Oink! in the late 1980s with my creation Pete and his Pimple. However I made the situations so exaggerated, so ludicrously extreme, that hopefully it transcended simply making jokes about acne. I also tried to make Pete a sympathetic character so the readers shared his desire to rid himself of his giant zit. (I even invited readers to send in their ideas for a pimple cure in return for a prize, and used the best ones in the comic.) Would I create new Pete and his Pimple stories today if Rebellion asked? Yes! Although I'd play up the sympathetic angle even more and give his character more depth. Not that a new series is likely anytime soon, and in today's times perhaps it wouldn't be commissioned anyway.

There are a couple of characters from my past that I do regret now. One is Norma Snockers, a newspaper strip I did for the Sunday Sport back around 1989/90. If you've never heard of the paper then "downmarket" is the kindest description I could give it. They commissioned me to create a kind of modern day "Jane" strip but cruder, and I came up with Norma, a woman with massive boobs. To offset it just being jokes about breasts I made each episode a five panel limerick, and made sure that most times Norma won out against lecherous dirty old men and the like. Not that it really justifies it in hindsight. I did 69 weekly strips and then quit after problems with delayed payments and their refusal to return my artwork. I own the rights to the strip and could publish a collection if I wanted to, but I don't want to so it's not going to happen.

The other character I regret is Tranny Magnet that I did for Viz about 20 years ago. The saga of a man who is cursed to attract the unwanted attention of transexuals. It all seemed like a bit of fun back then, before any of us realised the anguish and mental stress that real transexuals go through and the courage they face in making the decision to change their gender. I can make excuses that I was ignorant, and it was a different time, but my drawings of transexuals were insulting, callous and cruel and I hang my head in shame. I think I did half a dozen or so altogether but you won't be seeing any more appearances of that character! 

I was a younger man when I created those characters and now, at 62, hopefully I'm more mindful of the targets I choose for comedy. It's never too late to change your outlook. Many of us laughed at the bigoted comedians in the 1970s but the point is we should be better than that now!  It's easy to say "It's only a bit of fun" when you're not the target. For example it's not difficult to avoid being a racist, unless you're really enjoying being a racist. For anyone who complains that "we can't say that now" I'd ask, "Why would you want to?"

"Political correctness" isn't a war on humour. We can still produce funny stuff without punching down at minorities and people who don't deserve to be ridiculed. In this day and age more of us should be using our humour to target the elities, the authority figures who'd do us down, not our fellow citizens. That's always been a tradition in humour comics too of course; for the underdog to get the better of the oppressor, and may that tradition not only continue but to thrive!

49 comments:

  1. Bravo Lew. I agree with every paragraph, sentence, word and syllable.

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  2. Thanks Brendini! No doubt some will disagree but it seems to me that the opposite is an entitlement to be cruel, which shouldn't be acceptable in 2022.

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  3. In YOUR opinion

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  4. Yes, I made clear it was my opinion in the very post you're commenting on.

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  5. Yes bravo. The opposition to cruel elites has a history of divided efforts and in-fighting. Now more than ever we should be thinking about priority. Solidarity is our strength.

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  6. so Tranny is now a transexual and not a transvestite? fair enough but didn't relise it had changed.. not that transvestites really exist since the whole 1960s change in fashion styles.

    I'm in two minds about the whole issue.. i can't say i understand some of the terms used in the context and i'm a big fan of the one quote from Star trek (The savage Curtain) where Uhura comments to the fake Lincoln when he refers to her as a 'charming negress' and then asks for forgiveness as he knows some used it as a negative term, she replies "But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words."

    Words a mostly meaningless. its the throughts and actions behind them, but at the same time, I really much hate it when people (like it's 100% acceptable in the USA) call someone a 'spastic' and we aren't talking about the real meaning of the word, but in a negative insult way.. USA it's 100% acceptable.. UK, very much not so.. yet I still see people think it's acceptable..

    anyway.. issue is far too complex for someone who has suffered being bullied for all my primary and secondary school life to go deal with. Far too complex and I don't think any media have ever done anything but tried to jump in for a quick cash grab.

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  7. I really hate the word Woke. Its used so much to knock down people with progressive views.

    Last few years have been really interesting and it seemed to have snowballed from the Me Too movement. And in my opinion its all going in the right direction. I want to live in a society where everyone feels safe and supported.

    With regards to old content i think Disney have done the right thing where they have a warning message before a film that has dubious content plays.

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  8. Thanks Lew I’ll be punching the last paragraph in the next future if that’s ok?

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  9. Well said sir. So refreshing to hear someone of your (and my) generation show an intelligent awareness of these issues rather than parrot the anti-woke propaganda stirred up by the tabloids.

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  10. Thanks Anton. I am dismayed by the attitudes of some of my generation who use their age as an excuse not to change. Although I have to say I realised racism was bad back when I was a teenager when I saw how immigrant kids at my school were bullied not only by other pupils but by some teachers too.

    It took me a while to realise that mocking trans people or objectifying women in cartoons was equally as bad but when I wised up hopefully it made me a better person.

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  11. Well said. Times change, people change. That's life. We live and learn and grow. Onwards.

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  12. Excellent article, Lew!
    Those who claim that "it's only a bit of fun" or "it's only words" or "you can't say *anything* these days!" or "it's political correctness gone mad!" are guilty of either gross ignorance or lack of empathy, or both: they're basically saying, "Those words and phrases don't hurt me, therefore they don't hurt anyone."

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  13. What about freedom of speech?

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  14. You still have freedom of speech, Anon, but other people also have freedom of speech to react instead of keeping quiet and putting up with abuse like they used to.

    You have freedom of speech wherever you are, but venues and forums have the right to block that because it's their space. Freedom comes with responsibility.

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  15. Some 'woke' ideas are ridiculous though. Calling blackboards chalkboards in case blackboards offends blacks. Saying Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings instead of Merry Christmas in case other religions take offence. The determination not to recognise gender by calling actresses actors and all that load of old malarkey. Some ideas may arise from consideration for others, but most of it's a load of tosh. Fatty is still fat and Spotty still has spots, so it could be argued that despite the name changes, they're still being mocked and ridiculed visually, even if not by descriptive names.

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  16. "Happy Holidays" is just an alternative choice to include other religions. It hasn't replaced "Merry Christmas" at all. I saw "Merry Christmas" being said and published everywhere over the past few weeks. Yes, "Happy Holidays" one or two times too. So What?

    Some people prefer to be called actors. That's their choice and why should we disrespect that?

    The term "blackboard" stopped being suitable when other colours were used, mostly white boards and wipe-off ink!

    The point of not using deragatory names for kids who are still overweight or have spots is that it doesn't matter what they look like, but objectifying them by their looks isn't a good way to deal with it. Same reason that racist nicknames went out of fashion, or calling disabled people insulting names. I'm surprised that in 2022 this needs explaining to adults.

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  17. If you have to insult someone to maintain your 'Freedom of Speech', you've already lost the argument. As Lew says, nicknames can be childish but if it's a derogatory term, it's not given in friendship.
    Thanks for an excellent article about how things can move on and change. The anarchic alternative comedy of the 80s replaced the Working Men's humour of the 60s & 70s. A vocal minority complained it was too PC; some realised it was less offensive to friends and relatives; the rest of us still found it funny and progressed with the times.
    I'm also a 60s/70s child and was recently told I was was being Ableist during a conversation and I still have to concentrate when someone doesn't present with the standard he/she pronouns. But I don't mean to offend and was quite surprised at the number of ableist terms I use - especially in this time when mental health is so important. But if I'd learnt these terms were hurtful as a child, I probably wouldn't have to think so hard now - so Well done, Beano for teaching the next generation.

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  18. Hi Myles, Yes, feel free to share the post. Thank you.

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  19. You didn't mention your strip Suicidal Sid. So was it okay to make fun of the subject?

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  20. It's not an alternate choice when employers dictate to their staff that all inter-company cards should not bear the greeting Merry Christmas, as has happened.

    Some prefer to be called actresses so why should they be denied that description because others refuse to use it in pursuit of their non gender policy?

    Yes, other colours are used, but some schools said that where blackboards were still in use they should be called chalkboards. Presumably they considered the word black offensive. And if a whiteboard can be called a whiteboard, why shouldn't a blackboard be called what it is?

    And what about Smiffy, who's clearly intellectually challenged? Is it okay to make fun of the less bright? The fact is we're talking about characters who aren't real. Presumably children know the difference between something whose only purpose is to provide a laugh and reality.

    I'd have thought that, even in 2022, such was obvious and not in need of explanation.

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  21. Not an easy subject to write about Lew, but we'll said. I do get fed up with " what about freedom of speech" comments , if you have to degrade someone to say anything it's not worth saying, it's certainly not worth listening to. Of course you can disagree or have other opinions but don't be hurtful. Similarly of course there is no need to go WOKE overboard ( blackboard to chalkboard et c if that is a thing , is silly) but it's all about respect. As to Spotty's name change, even as a kid I thought that was a strange name for a character so I do get it.

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  22. Del, I was only talking about charcters I'd created. Suicidal Syd was created by someone else and isn't owned by me, although I did work on it for a few years later. However, the character was quite rightly dropped several years ago and hasn't been used since.

    Anon, I'd already said that some will always take things to extremes. Just because some might have found blackboard offensive doesn't invalidate changes for the good.

    Smiffy? That's just a variation on his name (Aristotle Smith). I've always thought he was just a bit daft, not that he's "intellectually challenged".

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  23. Just to repeat a sentence from my original post that some may have missed: "Obviously whenever there are changes in society there will be some who'll take things to the extreme, but overall, such changes are well measured and beneficial."

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  24. Why are some people irritated about things that don't affect them? Who cares if terms like blackboards and actresses aren't used nowadays? You'd think people would have more serious things to concern themselves with right now.

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  25. I was a big fan of your comic strips in Oink, Whizzer and Chips, and Buster when I was a lad, but haven't seen your work in ages, so when this blog post was linked on a comedy forum discussing other creative folks' more... regressive attitudes, I was a bit nervous that you might have gone all John Cleese.

    I'm grateful, then, that you've grown (as have I!) over the years, and have chosen to be empathetic where others have chosen to be merely pathetic. So nice to have someone I admired in my childhood turn out NOT to be a complete bell.

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  26. I think Anonymous is either just wanting a fight or they actually believe the nonsense peddled by hate-filled people who want to carry on being verbally abusive to others because they don’t like change, because they feel it threatens their privileged over others. The blackboard thing is false, and “actress” was always deemed second place to “actor”, hence the change to correct that. But sexist/racist/homophobic etc people online will peddle false extremes to get others on their side (the belief that women wanted “snowman” changed to “snow people” or that the Baby It’s Cold Outside Song should be banned, these were false arguments started by men to convince other men - and even women - that Me Too and progress was bad, same with the other examples brought up in other comments).

    Lew, I agree with everything you’ve said, every single word. Would you mind if I linked to this post from the OiNK Blog? Also, “why would you want to?” is such a simple response, but yet so powerful and conveys everything I feel so perfectly, I’ll definitely be using that in future. Happy New Year Lew!

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  27. Lovely stuff Lew. I had wondered if you would ever address the T****y Magnet character, and I'm glad to see you give the exact response I'd expect from a good egg such as yourself. Always a fan.

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  28. Thanks James! I'm really pleased you appreciate where I'm coming from. Yep, still working in comics!

    Thanks Phil. Yes, please do share the post.

    'Tis true, TLC. Why indeed.

    Thank you Stupacabra. Yeah, TM seemed hilarious when I came up with it but that was then and this is now as they say.

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  29. As recently as 2010 you said on Comics UK you wished you could do more Tranny Magnet strips so when did you go woke, last Tuesday? Hypercrite!

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  30. Anon, that only proves it's never too late for personal growth. A lot can happen in 12 years! Instead of calling me a "hypercrite" for changing my views since 2010 why not ask yourself why you're looking to pick fault instead of focusing on the positive?

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  31. I'd go along with all of this but for one minor quibble. Where you write, 'Let's face it; nicknames have always been pretty childish haven't they?'

    I'd say, yes, which is why children give each other nicknames, and sometimes mean ones. As writers we have to ask, do we write about children as they are, or children as we think they ought to be? If we go for the former, I think mean nicknames like Spotty fair enough. Not nice for the character perhaps, but fair use for a writer. Of course, it's not a simple either/or and will vary from story to story, so we can't have hard rules applying to everything, but I think child characters using mean nicknames fair enough if the writer aims to write comparatively 'realistic' childish behaviour. If we aim for 'role model' depictions of children, then the 'Scotty' option remains open.

    Always amazed at how angry this sort of stuff makes some people!

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  32. Actress always deemed second place to actor? Since when? And he accuses others of peddling falsehoods! And no one said it was okay to verbally abuse others. Just about every statement he made is nonsense. But finest display of sucking up I've ever seen.

    Soon women will probably be called men and be addressed as Mr, not Mrs or Miss. Crazy? That's woke for you.

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  33. Well for one thing Andy I think you'll find that women often received less pay than men, but why does the actor/acresses thing even bother you?

    Who's "sucking up"? I genuinely don't understand why these small gradual changes in society, intended to create a better world, make some people so irate. You're even getting annoyed at something you've speculated might happen. Take it easy. Get angry at the people who are really damaging the world, not a few name changes.

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  34. I think a writer has responsibilities though Oscar. Kids can be cruel but that might not always be appropriate to show that in a comic aimed for young kids. The Beano is a bit of fun, not Lord of the Flies. :)

    Casually using abusive nicknames was a thing in the 1950s when The Bash Street Kids started but it seems very dated now.

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  35. I meant the words, Lew. The word actress has never been deemed second place to the word actor, any more than bus conductress was to bus conductor. Why does it bother me? Bother is too strong a word, I was only saying how ridiculous and pointless such changes are. Why would it bother anyone to the extent they'd even think about changing one word to the other? It won't give women better roles or more pay. But having asked the question I'll answer it. The change is the result of minorities on a mission to obliterate the concept of gender because they think it will achieve equality.

    And as for getting angry, I don't really see anyone getting angry on this page. Surely readers responding to your post and politely expressing the other side of the discussion is what you were aiming for? Neither can I see anyone trying to pick a fight, with the possible exception of the person who suggested someone might be. One place I see anger and hatred is in the abuse that JK Rowling has been subjected to for politely saying that just identifying as a woman doesn't automatically make anyone a woman. She actually supports transgender rights, but not at the expense of women's rights. Gender exists, and attempts to deny a fact of nature is absurd.

    Which is widening the conversation a little, but it's pertinent to the overall discussion of whether woke ideas are a good thing or a bad thing. In some instances they might be, in others definitely not. Remember, other ideas of what constitutes a better world are available.

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  36. Thanks for sharing Lew, really thought provoking article. Now to answer the question is it natural progression? I don't think it is. I think there is a vocal minority who look at what the vast majority of people think are trivial things and take outrage re Scotty/Spotty and have the influence to change what they don't like. You have one vocal minority who want the change, and make it, then the other vocal minority who don't want it. and can't do much about it but vent, so I don't blame them. The rest of us are shrugging our shoulders.

    I agree, I thought spotty was more freckled than had acne. I don't even think spotty is actually that negative, I have known dogs and cats called it as pet names etc, of course it can be misused, but is it such a big problem? I don't think it is. I'd also say that with fatty too. I don't think all Nicknames are childish, used to work with guys who went by "gaffer" etc. But then Al "Boris" Johnson goes by his stage/nickname, so you may have a point.

    I'm also not sure if all these changes are beneficial. It feels like society is walking on egg shells for fear of causing offense, whether it's someone taking offense on behalf of others or actually offended themselves seems to be a moot point.

    Take the tranny point, look at Germaine Greer who has done more for the feminist cause than most yet she gets denounced for her opinion of this particular issue. The same for JK Rowling. Then you have the twitter witchhunts like with the England Cricket captain for saying something years ago, and made to apologise, which seem to be a regular occurrence.

    It seems the the most important thing is to put feelings ahead of truth on certain hot topics, I don't see that as a good thing. Intent is fine, but I think for all these changes there doesn't seem to be much thought on unintended consequences that can happen through this. Is joking about immutable characteristics so bad? Mental health is on the increase, as are suicides etc, is that because we're all offended now, maybe we have lost the ability to see the funny side of life, and even laugh at ourselves, warts and all, excuse the pun.

    For me I think the "woke" squad, which may have given some benefits, also need to show some humility themselves and be more forgiving and tolerant when people do make mistakes. We all make them, even the most virtue signalling sycophants from whatever political persuasion you align with.

    Personally I think the Beano should focus less on "current trends to reflect society" and more on what they do or did best, and make great stories. It's good to hear you are making new strips for them, so lets hope it happens.

    Best wishes

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  37. You said it yourself, Lew, it sets a precedent. I wish I’d commented on your blog post about Fatty’s name change because I did wonder at the time that if ‘Fatty’ was no longer acceptable, how long would it would take for Spotty to have to be renamed as well. You say that it’s ‘name calling’, but really most of the kids have nicknames, Erbert is Herbert, Plug is Percival, and Smiffy is so-called because his surname is Smith. These names aren’t derived from bullying, I’ve always had a sense they own their nicknames. And speaking of those these characters, they come to the heart of my worries about this small, slow change of these characters.

    Plug’s name comes from the phrase ‘plug ugly’, so will his name have to be changed too? And what about where the humour comes from? Is it OK to still have humour derived from Freddie’s weight or greed, to have Plug break glass mirrors because of his looks, Erbert knock things over because of his short-sightedness, or Smiffy do and say stupid things? All of these characterisations could be seen as offensive or hurtful by some, so where does it end? And then where does the humour come from? You can have so much more personality and subtly from characters who have their own strips, but when you have nine (now eleven) main characters, you need them to be extreme and abstract to actually have them have any ‘character’ at all. (Case in point, my favourite use of the Bash Street Kids was in Mike Pearse’s whole issue length stories around the turn of the century, like ‘The Great Bash Street Nativity Play’ as it gave the individual characters more time to shine, but Erbert still walked into things etc).

    Plus, I just feel like the Beano’s edges are being shaved off in this. I thought the Beano was supposed to be rebellious, irreverent and something that thrills children because they can’t believe the craziness of what they are reading. When I was a kid in the early 00s, I was conscious of my weight, but I never saw Fatty as either someone who took the mick out of fat people or represented me in any way, he was just a funny character in a comic who ate ridiculous amounts of food.

    It could be said that I’m making too much of these small changes, but I would guess many would have thought that they’d never change Spotty’s name when Fatty’s name was changed. We’ll have to wait and see - that’s just my two cents on the whole thing.

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  38. Oh I don't know, Lew. I'd love to see your version of Lord of the Flies. :)

    I think writer has the sole responsibility of writing the story they want to write. If you have a specific audience in mind, tailor the work to that audience, of course. I wouldn't have James Bond riding a unicorn or The Railway Children dealing in smack, for example. I'd feel quite happy including abusive nicknames in a hard-hitting story set in a modern school, but maybe not in a whimsical fantasy set in a school for pre-teen witches. Using words as tools, we use different tools for different jobs.

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  39. Oscar, unless you're self publishing, it's not the writer's sole responsibility. It's also the editor and publisher's responsibility, and it's the publisher that gets it in the neck if the media decide to make an issue of something. The writer has to follow whatever remit they're given by the publisher.

    Ben, the characteristics of the Bash Street Kids are still evident. Just changing a couple of names slightly hasn't changed the humour. As for Plug, it was established decades ago that it's an abbreviation of his full name - Percival Proudfoot Plugsley. "Plug-Ugly" (or its British equivalent "Pug-Ugly") isn't really a term kids use today so I don't think they'd make that connection.

    "Where does it end"? Who knows? People have been asking that question since women got the vote I guess. Society changes, and often for the better.


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  40. Lew, any chance you can draw a follow up to the Viz strip 'Tranny Magnet' that you did a while back? Fun strip.

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  41. No, for the reasons I explained in this very post!

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  42. I get your point about publishers, and that's why I mentioned the examples of Bond and Railway Children in my previous post. If, as a writer, you've chosen to work to a particular remit, of course you have a responsibility to that remit - but you've presumably agreed to do so because it *enables* you to write the stories you want to write. If it doesn't then you - we, I should say - as writers have the freedom to go elsewhere. Equally, however, if I write something freely, not to conform to a remit, then publishers have the freedom to publish or not to publish. If they chose to publish and then get it in the neck for something, they can hardly blame the writer for the consequences of their own decision.

    On this general topic, you might be interested in 'How We Read Now,' that was on Radio 4 recently. Very interesting on the changing relationship between writers and readers, and how many writers now get judged for their 'values' rather than their work.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m0010x29

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  43. I think it's possible to overthink the situation and feel constrained when that's not the case. As a freelancer in kids' comics for nearly 40 years, following the remit is something one does without a second thought, particularly when any remit sensibly reflects a changing society, as it does in this case. If I wanted to write something that challenged that, I certainly could, and could get it into print by self publishing, but I personally feel that the "PC" changes (for want of a better term) are the right thing to do.

    It's not that I feel my voice isn't being heard like perhaps a playwright or the author of novels might feel. I write/draw daft stuff for humour comics. Adapt and get on with it has always been my motto.

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  44. Lew I Totally Disagree.

    As a writer it's your responsibility to write stories that are truthful and meaningful. Pandering to the woke crowd is letting them dictate to you and removes the freedoms that all writers should have. Adapt? Another word for going with the flow. Any writer worth their salt would say no, I'll do this the way I want to do it. Political Corrctness is a prison. Break free and write the comics the way they used to be, free of intereference!!

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  45. I'm writing/drawing comics, Anon, not the great British novel. I enjoy what I do. I don't feel constrained at all because, as I've already said, I agree with the changes. You're making a mountain out of a molehill.

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  46. By the way, comics have never been written "free of interference" as you put it. Editors and publishers have always called the shots and fashion the comics as the way they want to see them. It's the way it is and that's fine.

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  47. Comedy Goldfinger (Boko)30 March 2022 at 19:52

    Why does Anonymous think writers for the Beano have free reign to write what they like? It's a commercial enterprise and writers are asked to follow certain guidelines. The only respinsibility Lew has is to write comics that readers find funny. Writing material that is "Truthful and meaningful" is more applicable to journalism not the Beano!

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  48. Thanks CG. I'm afraid some people have a misconception of how freelancing works.

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