Debuting in The Sun on 11th November 1985, newspaper strip Striker has defied the odds and reached its 28th birthday today, despite a chequered history that has seen its cancellation and revival on more than one occasion.
Today, it’s a key part of both the print and digital editions of The Sun – and even has its own app. Not bad for a strip that launched in 1985 that was created, written drawn by one man – self-taught artist and writer, Pete Nash.
Back in 1985 Striker creator Pete Nash landed a job as a design sub-editor on The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling daily newspaper and took inspiration from his role as part of the team responsible for processing the daily cartoons and decided to he wanted to create a newspaper cartoon strip.
“It wasn’t so much a new ambition as a rediscovered one,” Pete recalls. “At school I was crazy about comics – so much so that I drew my own comic for my English CSE project when I should have written reviews of four very dull books we’d been given to read!”
There was only one problem with wanting to draw a newspaper strip… Pete wasn’t a trained artist. But he decided he could teach himself to be one and, after months of practice he then decided on creating an ongoing football strip.
“There was no other football cartoon around, apart from Roy of the Rovers, which I believed had become tired and dated. I wanted the hero of my strip to be someone ordinary people could relate to: someone fallible and imperfect. And so Nick Jarvis was born. An ordinary guy with an ordinary name. He was an apprentice engineer who played football for a non-league side that had been drawn to play Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. His side were well beaten, but Nick shone, and he was spotted and signed by Jim Cassidy, manager of First Division club Thamesford.”
Pete was convinced he was onto a winner, but convincing the then-editor of The Sun – the volatile Kelvin MacKenzie was another matter. But that challenge was quickly over and done with – he decided to run it.
“He didn’t say it was good and he didn’t say it was bad,” says Pete. “He just asked if there would be lots of sex in it. I assured him there would be.”
Striker made its debut on November 11, 1985 – replacing Axa and the first story featured a young Nick joining Thamesford, only to be accused of making love to a girl under 16. He was innocent, of course; the girl had been paid by rival team-mate Gary Lewis to set him up, and the truth finally emerged in court.
In 1986, Pete resigned from The Sun and became a full-time freelance, producing the strip from home. In August 1990, like all the other strips in the paper, it made the jump to full colour, but it wouldn’t be until March 1998 that it made the jump to the 3D-generated cartoon strip it still is today.
“It was a disaster,” Pete remembers. “The best thing that could be said about it was that it was different. But did it look better? Absolutely not. The colours were murky; my retouching of the 3D images looked heavy and clumsy, and the images themselves lacked the comic ‘feel’.
“Stuart Higgins, the new editor at The Sun, didn’t like it and neither did most of his staff, although I remember being heartened by a phone call from Steve Waring – later to become The Sun’s sports editor – who said the new look was a bold move and “the future of comics”. But after three weeks, Pete dropped the format and Striker continued to be drawn by John Cooper while a talented writer called Andy Walker was working with Pete on some of the stories, who was also writing another strip in The Sun called Psycops, which he had created three years earlier.
“It’s not that I think 3D computer-generated artwork is better than drawn artwork,:” says Pete. “I just think that 3D offers more potential in terms of visual effects, perspective and light and shade. Another advantage is that the style will always be consistent no matter how many artists work on it.”
In June, 1999, encouraged by the positive reaction to Striker, Pete formed his own company, Striker 3D Ltd and set about recruiting staff who could help me improve the strip, as well as laying the foundations for future projects, while The Sun expanded the strip and other newspapers, including the Daily Mirror and the Express tried to poach it. In 2002, however, relationships between Pete and The Sun soured and in August 2003 he launched his own, weekly Striker comic with a launch budget of £300,000.
“That may sound like a lot of money and it is – but compared to the £15 million spent by the big publishers of Zoo and Nuts, it was peanuts,” Pete notes.
Despite Pete’s determination and the support of a good team, the title’s launch sales were dangerously close to the break-even figure of 28,000. For the first six weeks sales hardly dipped, due mainly to a promotion we had in WH Smith. But when the promotion ended, availability plummeted – and sales slowly began to slide.
“Wholesalers and retailers told us our product was good and that we needed to spend more on promotion – well, they would say that, wouldn’t they – but we just didn’t have the budget. “It’s a familiar story that will resonate with all comics publishers trying to launch a non-branded, non-licensed title, despite the huge following Striker had in The Sun. Readers simply couldn’t find Striker on the news stand and sales dipped still further. Despite an innovative solution to raise investment – offering shares to readers that raised £200,000, and a pldege from an advertising agency of another £100,000, Pete and his team couldn’t covince other investors to come on board, despite their appreciation of the title’s innovative 3D artwork and gripping storylines.
“They just couldn’t get their heads round the fact that adults would want to buy a comic – even though 20,000 of them were already doing so every Thursday, despite its limited availability.
“They were depressing days. I was sick of the money men telling us what a great product we had whilst politely declining to invest. Sales were continuing their gentle yet agonising decline and I had to accept that Striker was never going to make it as a stand-alone publication.”
After 87 terrific issues, the last Striker comic was published on Thursday 12th May 2005 – but, incredibly, Pete was offered the chance to take Striker back to The Sun on terms that would preserve Striker 3D’s independence whilst enabling The Sun to share in its success.Although there have been further hiccups along the way – including the strip’s cancellation and subsequent return to The Sun – Striker continues to shine, now almost taking up a full page in the newspaper after the disappearance of Wallace & Gromit.
The strip also forms an integral part of the paper’s Sun+ digital offering, and recently went global with an app launch from Syon Publishing, offering all the glitz and glamour of the wildest football stories ever told for your iPad or iPhone.Happy Birthday, Striker! Long may you continue!
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.