“Modern Toss is a British series of cartoon booklets and books aimed at adults, and at television series based on them. It is the creation of Mick Bunnage and Jon Link; their company is called Modern Toss Ltd, also going under the name ‘*hitflap’ (apparently a euphemism for ‘shitflap’). The cartoons feature low-quality drawing, offensive language, violence, and satire of mundane lige. Most of the printed cartoons are one page long and consist of one or sometimes a few frames.” Thanks Wikipedia.
How did you get started?
Jon Link — About 16 years ago, we met at the launch of Loaded magazine. We were part of that team that launched it. We started working on things in the magazine, projects which we set ourselves, which you could do at that time. It was quite a strange set up.
Mick Bunnage — When it started it was more like a rock ‘n’ roll magazine. It wasn’t just a tit mag. It was kind of held responsible for that whole thing, but it was really just a rock ‘n’ roll, bit mental magazine. Try anything you like. We were sort of encouraged to work together. Everyone who worked on Loaded was into trying out new ideas and stuff. Jon is a graphics…
JL — Yeah, I was a designer…
MB — I was a journalist.
JL — But we both wanted to do cartoons. So we found a bit of common ground in trying to get cartoons into Loaded and trying to do one off strips and stuff.
MB — That’s when we started doing The Office Pest thing. It was our attempt to have a crack at a bit of violent, surreal humour. This is way before Guy Ritchie thought of it.
How was it received?
JL — The readers really liked it. A couple of them had tattoos done.
MB — I don’t think there’s ever been a magazine like Loaded where they encouraged you to come up with concept ideas that were funny and just go for it over three or four pages. I can’t think of anyone else doing it.
JL — It’s quite an old fashioned thing that died out quite a long time ago.
MB — We were the only ones at the magazine doing it. It was a good magazine for at least three years. So it’s from that stuff that we decided to have a go at doing a comic. We decided to just go on, exploring The Office Pest ideas and seeing if we could get our own cartoons going.
Do you come from a comics background, look at comics and that type of thing?
JL — Not so much’comics as single panel gags. Old fashioned stuff, like the old New Yorker stuff. Punch, Private Eye. It’s a bit of a dying form, really. You still get them in newspapers I suppose.
Have you got any heroes from that realm?
MB — There’s quite a lot of cartoonists that we like. We both really like [Saul] Steinberg’s stuff, which is more subtle. Its not really gag stuff. Its kind of graphic jokes. That’s something of what we do. We like the single panel thing, because it’s extremely focused. You can really get one idea and beam in on it. You’re not worried about telling a story or creating an atmosphere. We tend to like cartoonists that are more like that.
So, what’s your working process? Does one do the image and the other the text?
MB — No. we both do both of it. But Jon tends to. . .
JL — Because I come from a design background, I end up finally sticking it together. But we both write and draw.
MB — And come up with ideas and come up with the lines.
So you’ve both got the drawing skills?
MB — Well we both do drawing.
JL — We’ve got slightly different styles. Mick does slightly ’70s looking stuff, Cheese and Wine, and I do the scratchy cavemen things.
MB — Jon’s thing is that he’s got graphic design skills. And the look of what we do is really a major part of what it is. The way it’s presented is what it’s all about. That’s the flavour of it.
JL — Friends of mine always laugh at me because I went through a stage of picking stuff up and going like that. [Picks up a packet of tobacco and looks at it extremely closely and from all angles.]
MB — We’re actually quite minimalist, we really do focus in. A character, because it’s so simple, if it’s not drawn right then its just rubbish. Every word and caption has to be exactly how we want it.
JL — We just use a very basic set of fonts. One is Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk. Which is a really old sans serif. It’s got quite an old personality, from the ’50s or ’60s, but it’s really just a nothing typeface.
I love font geeks. Have you got a spare two hours to explain that in some more detail? [laughs…]
MB — That’s how long he’d go for…
[We start to talk about letters on a packet of tobacco on the table which JL says would be “too modern” for them and that it has “too much personality”. MB says the big red price tag that says £2.99 on the packet is more in keeping with their graphic style.]
So Jon studied graphic design, how about you Mick, did you study art?
MB — No, I didn’t study it. I just started drawing cartoons as part of being a journalist. I was doing both at the same time.
JL — Also Mick’s dad used to work on Whizzer and Chips.
MB — You probably don’t know what Whizzer and Chips is. All those comics in the 70s like Roy of The Rovers, and Dandy, and all those… My dad was a lettering artist.
Modern Toss reads like you’ve spent years working in an office, and you’re really pissed off with it. . . Does it reflect personal experience?
JL — We spent long enough working in an office.
MB — We both had shitty jobs in the past. That’s a lot of people’s experience, so we might as well tap into it.
JL — Work is a massive part of anyone’s life and most of our cartoons are in one way or another about work.
Your work presents quite a bleak world view. Is it an antidote to all the hype and bullshit we are fed in the media?
MB —Yeah, that’s what we are about really.
JL — Keeping up to date with the bullshit. The different technical levels of 360 platform media bullshit that go on. We have to keep up to date with all of it. You’ve got keep on top of it… that’s why people in offices like our stuff.
MB — We sort of accept things as they come up, and make jokes about them. We’re not anti anything. We’re not really satirists. We just make jokes. Economic global meltdown is perfect for us. It’s the best thing that could have happened.
It’s so rare nowadays to read or hear an opinion in the media that isn’t some kind of sales pitch.
JL — Criticism has been beaten out of the whole system.
MB — We do our stuff about how ordinary people deal with all that stuff. So it’s about how ordinary people deal with technology that’s been invented.
JL — Having said that, we are open to offers…
MB — If Apple want anything, give us a ring. Our character Mr. Tourette was probably the first character we did which focussed all our ideas. He’s basically just a stroppy worker who is constantly being offered new business projects to work on. He has a go at them and they say, “that’s rubbish” and he says, “fuck you!”What makes you happy?
MB — Oh Christ…
JL — That’s a complicated question. Making a good cartoon makes us happy. When I had a job, I was very unhappy. Now I haven’t got one and I do this, that makes me happy. It’s a bit like being an outlaw or something, not having a job. Like being in the woods. Robin Hood and the outlaws. Also, drinking’s good… and smoking.
MB — Yeah, we’ll go with that tack. That question has thrown me so badly. We are generally quite happy though. People often expect us to be a couple of miserable, world-hating idiots. That is true, but that is not the whole picture.
JL — We have to be quite positive people to do what we do.
MB — When you’re as deep down as we are, in the shit
JL — It’s Colonel Kurtz territory.
OK, the reverse question. What makes you angry?
MB — That’s as bad as the other one. We get annoyed about stuff we see on TV. Stuff that is a bit half arsed and a bit lazy. One of the things that really annoys me is comedians on those panel shows. They just take it in turns to try and out do each other with funny remarks. It drives me mad.
JL — There’s a sort of lack of imagination and ambition about them.
MB — Our Drive-by abuser character is sort of an outlet for anything we get upset by. It’s a stream of consciousness blitz on something. We laid into cappuccinos, even though, funnily enough, we’d just had one.
If you can’t be a hypocrite, what can you be?
JL — Part of the Drive-by’s thing though, is that he’s so confused; he doesn’t even know what he’s having a go at.
MB — He really will have a go at anything… that’s part of the challenge, to find something that’s really hard to have a go at.
JL —At the end of it he’ll admit that he’s not quite sure about what he’s just said.
Are there any other artists you’re into, more from the gallery world?
JL — Gilbert and George really make us laugh. In my view, they’re Britain’s greatest comedians.
MB — There are a lot serious artists, who deal with comedy but from artist’s point point of view.
JL — It’s a similar process. You’re boiling down a very complex subject into a very small amount of words or pictures.
MB — Is it Martin Creed who did the lights going on and off? I loved that. If you’re going to be serious about it, then you’ve got a whole new ball game. But if you look at it from a cartoonist’s point of view, it’s actually quite funny. It’s stupid and funny at the same time.
JL— It’s quite Spike Milligan. If you look at some of Spike Milligan’s stuff, The Q series and all that, he could be an artist now.
MB — So much performance art is borderline funny. Those mad Austrian blokes who shit themselves and cut themselves up. That’s funny. David Lynch is funny, but it’s done in a very straight way… Jeff Koons is funny. You can walk into an art gallery and find anything funny. Having said that, The Laughing Cavalier isn’t very funny at all. It’s just a bloke laughing.