The Slugs may have only made their first appearance in #33 of OiNK but they made a huge impact, in no small way thanks to the artwork of Les ‘Lezz’ Barton. His unique, busy and highly energetic style was perfect for this strip but he also contributed much more to the pages of OiNK and other publications such as Punch, Private Eye, The Daily Sketch, Daily Mirror, Whizzer and Chips and so much more.
Born on 8 December 1923 in Wareham, Dorset, Lezz was a self-taught artist. When a motorcycle accident made him rethink his career options he retrained as a draughtsman while using his spare time to create cartoons for submission to publications. He succeeded while stationed in Lagos, Nigeria during World War II where he had his first regular cartoons published.
His first work for Uncle Pigg came in #10 with this Ode to Teachers, a poem that’s just as much fun to look at thanks to the way Lezz has handwritten it on the page as it is to read. Complete with ink blots and memorable caricatures it’s quite the introduction to his anarchic style and really stands out in a comic already known for different art styles. Lezz would go on to produce work for 32 issues altogether, culminating in the final annual.
After the war he worked for the Associated-Iliffe Press as a process artist while also producing anything around 20 cartoons a week! Lezz was also a founding member of the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain in 1960. Around this time he was best known for his regular strip I-Spy in Sparky comic about a secret agent whose face was always hidden but whose cloak was full of a seemingly never-ending array of gadgets, all used in the artist’s usual animated fashion.
While his art is distinctive and easily identified, Les was also able to adjust it to perfectly suit the script he was illustrating. For example, while we were most used to his full-on style for The Slugs he was also able to turn his hand to this fantastic spoof of Bunty comic, Bumty Comic presents Wanda with the Wooden Leg. We can clearly see it’s Lezz’s work but it’s different, he’s tailored it in such a way that on the surface it wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of the comic it’s poking fun at. That was the whole idea of course.
It’s a classic strip and a genius piece of penmanship. Contrast this with The Slugs, which was always written by co-editor Tony Husband. Here’s their second appearance in OiNK from #34 to show you just how Lezz brought these unique characters to life. Each and every panel is packed full of movement and detail, full of a real feeling of crazy fun and full of, well, punk!
Sadly Lezz died in Hayes, Middlesex aged 84 on 20th October 2008. He had continued working into his 80th decade, turning his attention to greetings cards in his final years. Whether drawing for adults or children his work was, to sum it up in one word, fun.
Lezz’s contribution to OiNK and his impact on young pig pals can not be underestimated, and he is rightly fondly remembered to this day by so many of us.