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Modern Toss: Are the Scratchers of TurmoilUmělec magazine 2009/2
Ivan Mečl | interview | en cs de
Jon Link and Mick Bunnage are the Writers, Cartoonists and Animators behind the ultra stylish and hilarious cult comic and TV series Modern Toss.
They have written, designed and directed two Rose d’Or nominated series of their own Modern Toss (6 x 24 minute episode) cartoon sketch show, broadcast on UK ‘s Channel 4 in 2006 and 2008. A mixture of edgy, scratchy, blunt talking animated characters with bizarre and surreal live action. The second series is to be shown in the U.S on the IFC channel in March 2009. In 2008 they wrote, designed and directed a highly acclaimed 13 minute Animation Short, “Work Experience“, for E4 based on cartoons they draw regularly for the Guardian newspaper. They have produced 5 books of their cartoons, published by Macmillans in the UK and the US.
How do you guys come up with all that strange stuff?
The two questions people ask us most about what we do is where do you get your ideas from and how do you earn
a living drawing cack-handed cartoons of demented idiots swearing at each other? We don’t know the answer to either of these but it’s probably something to do with living in modern England.
We first started writing and drawing cartoons when we met up at Loaded Magazine back in the mid 90s. We were both part of the original team. Loaded was an instant success and changed men’s magazines in Britain overnight.
It was like being in a rock band as everyone was drunk all day and used to eat out of bins and sleep under their desks like dogs. One of the first things we did there was a cartoon strip about a psychotic 60’s style cockney crook called Villain. It didn’t have any jokes or plot in it and it unsettled a lot of readers. After that we sat down and had a bit of a re-think and came up with the much more popular ‘Office Pest’1 -
a long running cartoon strip dedicated to experimental violence in the work place. It was a massive hit with the target market, psychopathic teenagers. Looking back it was probably where the idea for Modern Toss got started.
And how did the story of Modern Toss continue?
The first Modern Toss comic came out in 2004. Our main inspiration was that we were both fed up with working for other people. A lot of what we do is still about that; finding new ways to tell people to fuck off. It’s a very healthy English thing. Our characters are mostly based on people we see hanging around shopping centers arguing with each other or just staring at things. English people tend to have very suppressed, simmering tempers that build up for ages, years even, then suddenly burst out like unblocked drains in a torrent of violent verbal abuse. Often it’s aimed at someone who’s pushed in front of you in a bus queue. We capture that moment in pencil and preserve it forever. It’s our meat and potatoes.
You’ve got a pretty crude art style, sometimes incorporating collages into the mix; it’s all very primordial in a cave artist kind of way.
Due to our limited drawing skills we have to base all our characters on people with really thin arms and big heads. We have to draw all the characters because we’re the only people who know what they’re supposed to look like. Most of our characters can only be drawn in profile so we have to use a special type of a pencil. One of our characters, a psychopathic ball of scribble called ‘Alan’, is particularly difficult to do because he has to flip over to turn round corners. Something you don’t have to worry about with human actors. He is also one of the few characters we’ve got with two eyes.
Who is Homeclubber?
Homeclubber is a bloke sitting in a room watching the world go by on the internet and pontificating about it to another bloke who’s not interested, we know quite a few people like that, it’s run for 5 years in the Saturday Guardian and shows no sign of stopping.
What inspired you to do Mr. Tourette?
Frustration at work inspired Mr. Tourette; unlike most people, he has an uncompromising attitude to his work and isn’t afraid to tell clients to go and fuck themselves if they don’t like what he’s done. Mr. Tourette is a much misunderstood French sign writer whose attempts to re-brand businesses often end in obscenity and embarrassment for all concerned.
Before the first Modern Toss comic came out we’d put some Mr Tourette cartoons on our own website in 2003, and just kept adding a few more every month - “Peter’s Bollocks” was the first one.
We took the first batch of comics into London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in a shopping trolley and the bloke in the shop there bought the lot. He moved all the subsidized art magazines out of the way and stuck our comic in prime spot. It sold out really quickly so we had a go at a second issue. It was even better. Later that year the publishers Macmillans whacked issues one and two together in a bumper cartoon book and it became a best seller in the Christmas market. We’ve done three more since then.
After that Banksy rang up and invited us to design some prints for him. We offered him a range of jokes. One of the most popular turned out to be one from our ‘Work’ range where a man is on the phone saying ‘I can’t come in today so fuck off’. Like most of our stuff, it hit a haiku style nerve somewhere. He also invited Mr. Tourette to do a sign for his art exhibition shop window. There was a queue round the block to watch the words “STINKING ART PISS” being removed by Westminster council two hours after the opening.
You told me about some troubles with distribution. What happened? Was it because of the content?
It was hard to get a distributor to start with, mainly because it doesn’t look like anything else so shops don’t know where to put it. It also has a lot of ripe language in it which put some shops and distributors off. We don’t have any problems with it now though as everyone in Britain had taken up swearing fulltime. Everyone loves it, all ages from kids to pensioners. We’re thinking of doing a braille version for the over 90’s.
People are always asking us what our favorite swear word is, but we haven’t really got one. We like them all. Actually we’re more into combination swear words than singular usage. Adding a swear word to a normal everyday object and then bolting a verb on the end achieves some surprising result, for example ‘Shouting Fuck Trumpet’. Not bad. We can work with that.
What about TV collaboration? Are you happy with that job? Is it new for you?
The first television series commission came as a bit of a surprise. Some bloke from Channel 4 ( in the UK) just rang us up and said “Do you want to make a TV version of it?” We said “Alright.” We always thought Modern Toss would make a good TV show, but as all our jokes only lasted 2 seconds we couldn’t figure out how we were going to fill up a full half an hour without writing 3500 jokes per episode. Luckily some TV people showed us some tricks of the trade, like how to make a single joke last 15 minutes. It came in quite useful.
We also soon realized that even our basic brand of animation was going to take ages to do so we thought why don’t we just pay some real ‘people’ to muck about instead while we point a camera at them. It turned out to be much quicker and easier. Then we had to find people who looked like they came from the world of Toss. We were very lucky in coming up with a crop of top notch idiots who looked brilliant and didn’t care what we told them to do. ‘Lettuce Man’ is the leader of the pack. He was the star complainer in our Customer Services ‘My Neighbor’s an Ass hole’ sketch. He has a natural gift for expressing things with his face without ever moving any of its muscles. That’s a genuine talent in our book.
Experimental comedy on a small budget is always risky, but we’ve only had one thing go so wrong it was unusable. We once spent a whole day filming a man trying to fix a car with an imaginary animated tongue, he was called Tongue Mechanic. You’ve got to give it a go, haven’t you?
If the “Swing News” music clip is any indication, you seem to be a talented musician.
Yes , we both whistle tunes to highly qualified musicians who turn it into classical music or jazz depending on our mood.
Is Modern Toss a full time job or just a hobby?
We both do Modern Toss full time, and have done so since we first started it. It’s not a hobby, its more like a bodily function. To keep us going we do regular cartoons for UK newspapers and publish books every year which are compilations of the comics.
Our typical day runs something like this. Get up. Make 38 phone calls, eat a biscuit, draw a picture of a dolphin fucking a horse, put a caption on it… Lunch….make another phone call, go down newsagent get newspaper, get a picture of an old man, put a cartoon head on it.
How did the idea for one of your latest projects, “Buy more shit... ”, come to your mind? You told me that it‘s based on a wartime government poster campaign “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON,” correct?
Yes, that’s right. Its a range of plastic bags with motivational messages to help kick start the ailing British economy. The first design “BUY MORE SHIT OR WE’RE ALL FUCKED” is already a UK bag sensation. We’re knocking ‘em out for a quid each to show that we‘re prepared to knuckle down and do our bit.
We wanted to do a themed issue based on the recession, so that’s our take on it “buy more shit or we’re all fucked” the bag was a free gift for the Friends of Modern Toss (people who preorder the comic) but it proved very popular, so we started knocking them out on the website, quid a go. We’ve got a cotton version now as well.
But we also do a range of greetings cards and prints, available from Banksy’s print company Pictures On Walls. Have a look at the website. The ‘Work’ ones are very popular with people who’ve got jobs or are nostalgic for the days when they had one.