Interview: Simon Furman & Laurent LeFeuvre on the return of The Leopard From Lime Street!
6th October 2021
Out right now, the Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular brings you 52-pages of classic British humour comics from all-new creative teams. You’ll see the return of Frankie Stein, Gums, Kid King, Sweeny Toddler, and many, many more from the likes of Cavan Scott, Tiernen Trevallion, Tom Paterson, Kek-W, Lew Stringer, John Reppion, PJ Holden and many more!
But, alongside the return of many much-loved Brit humour strips, you’ll also find the return of one of THE classic Brit comics characters, as we get the continuing adventures of Billy Farmer, better known to generations of comics fans as The Leopard From Lime Street!
After getting scratched by a radioactive leopard, young Billy Farmer soon discovered that he had acquired the strength, agility and senses of the mighty jungle cat – and so he became The Leopard from Lime Street!
Created by Tom Tully, Mike Western and Eric Bradbury, The Leopard from Lime Street is one of the most fondly remembered creations in British comics history and it’s quite right that he should be making a reappearance in the pages of the first new kids comic for many years – Monster Fun!
That’s happening from April 2022 – but before that, there’s the Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular to enjoy, including the first spooky tale of the new adventures of The Leopard of Lime Street, Totem, from writer Simon Furman and artist Laurent LeFeuvre, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Simon and Laurent to talk about the fun of bringing back a favourite!
So Simon, Laurent – I guess the first thing to ask is just what it’s all about for you?
SIMON FURMAN: For me, it’s revisiting a strip I loved as a younger comics fan. Here’s the quick story: I was 15, and comics were kind of behind me by then. I’d moved on to movies (horror movies in particular), books and (in theory) girls. But I saw the cover to Buster that announced the debut of Leopard From Lime Street, and just got pulled back in. I loved it. And got that it was a British version of Spider-Man (all the tropes were there – kindly aunt, irascible editor, radioactive bit [scratch] etc) and just loved it more for that.
So, yeah, I was a BIG fan of the original strip. Great stories (and, perhaps more important, Fun stories) and the art of Eric Bradbury and Mike Western just blew me away. Both at the top of their game (and that’s saying something!).
LAURENT LAFEUVRE: I discovered the Leopard when I was around 7 or 8 in France, in the mid-80s (I was born and still live in Britanny). Like many other English series, The Leopard from Lime Street was then published in small booklets of 130 pages, in novel format, with a colour cover. This format was very widespread among us, although very ignored in my country where the standard of the genre remains the traditional hardcover album (Tintin, Asterix etc.). These formats have long played the role that manga embodies in the current market: a popular, inexpensive form of black and white comics. And yet the names of the authors were not specified there, unlike the Marvel series which were then a hit in France at the same time.
Anyway, I instantly felt the English aspect of them all, which added to my interest. This is how I discovered The Leopard. And I found it amazing.
I was born in 1977, so I read the Leopard at the perfect age, between 7 and 10. I remember that perfect catchphrase: ‘Attrape-moi si tu peux…chasse-moi si tu l’oses’ – ‘Catch me if you can…hunt me if you dare!’ (Ok. It sounds so much better in English!)
Laurent, I don’t know – as a non-speaker of French past the age of 14, I think that scans really well!
Simon, you’ve already had some experience with the Leopard in your Vigilant trilogy with Simon Coleby, but that was a rather different sort of version of young Billy Farmer.
So, what can we expect from your new version of The Leopard?
SF: For The Vigilant, it was more of a revamp/reinvention (while staying true to the original wherever possible). Here, it’s as if just a year or two have elapsed in the life of Billy Farmer/The Leopard and we pick up his adventures (as both) in exactly the same vein as the original strip, if somewhat more slanted to a creepy/supernatural threat/storyline.
How did you get involved in the Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular?
SF: I’m hugely lucky that editor Keith Richardson likes my stuff, so I was in line for The Vigilant and then the Leopard as his writer of choice. We found we had a lot of the same IPC/Fleetway touchstones, and as excited as I was using characters like The Steel Commando and Blake Edmonds (Death Wish) in The Vigilant it was the Leopard I was most keen to get to grips with.
LL: Keith Richardson and I met at the Angoulême BD festival in January 2019. At the time, I was presenting some new opus of my own Fox-Boy series, a sort of French version of Spider-Man, with less muscles. My graphic universe being largely marked by my childhood readings, I imagine that the obvious parallel between my character (a teenager who embarks on a career as a vigilante of the block) and the Leopard will have intrigued him! I remember Keith walking on eggshells then wondering if I knew the Lime Street Leopard, which of course I did!
I can even admit that Billy Farmer’s outfit was a big inspiration to Pol Salsedo when he created his own in 2011 (You can even see my own booklets drawn in a panel, back in 2012).
So you can imagine that since the day he told me about the Leopard from Lime Street rebirth project in Monster Fun until today, I’ve been so proud to finally be able to say that I am the new designer!
And why Leopard from Lime Street?
SF: For all the above reasons and the fact that through the Treasury of British Comics collections of Leopard from Lime Street I’d already re-immersed myself in the world of Billy Farmer/The Leopard. I was raring to go with some new material and grabbed the chance with both paws!
It’s a very Halloweeny episode of Leopard, and one that definitely leaves us with a few questions about the nature of Billy’s powers. Now, I’m hoping you’re going to tell me that you’re both going to be involved in doing more Leopard for the new bi-monthly Monster Fun – will we be getting this as a story slowly unfolding?
SF: At the time of writing Totem, I had no idea if it would end up a one-off or the start of something bigger. But my instinct is just to ask questions about the character (and often go right back to the beginning). Y’know, I love the Leopard‘s origin, but radioactive leopard? Really? It’s kind of hokey but I had no intention of messing with that. Just… looking beyond it a bit and, as you say, posing some searching questions. Did I have half an eye on being able to continue that slight bombshell the Totem story drops? Of course.
And with the bi-monthly Monster Fun just around the corner, it looked like I might get to probe even deeper into the origin of the Leopard‘s powers, and Billy’s life before the original storyline in Buster.
Now, assuming you’re both taking this on in future Monster Funs… what sorts of things can you tease us with? What can we expect for Billy?
SF: Definitely more creepy bad buys (and gals), definitely peeling back more layers of Billy’s past and his powers. Seriously, I have some game-changing stuff up my sleeve, which I think (hope) will serve to expand the world/cast/reach of the Leopard of Lime Street.
LL: And I must say that I can’t wait to draw more!
Okay then, let’s put Simon on hold for a moment and talk art – Laurent, let’s start with that logo! As a fan already, how wonderful was it that you got to do that classic logo? – something that all of us who’ve ever experienced the greatness of the strip have loved seeing.
LL: Absolutely! This logo is one of the great ideas of the series as a trademark. Keith thought it was important to keep it as close as possible and I couldn’t agree more, just as Simon’s script kept the special flavour of the original series – with a special touch of his on top of that.
Of course, the obvious similarities with a certain web-head have been mentioned. But it’s just a starting point and the magic of The Leopard is that you NEVER think of Peter Parker when you read his adventures, so singular is this universe. In fact, it’s the Leopard who tells the child in me, and then the artist, what I can make him do… or not!
How do you work – what’s your process? Did you approach the Leopard of Lime Street with a view to the work that’s gone before – all that stunning Western and Bradbury artwork?
LL: That’s exactly it, yes. I’ve tried to keep this particular layout, with boxes of all shapes, as if the Leopard was too wild to be consigned to neat little boxes. Even the fastest draughtsman should not be able to lock him up! This is the way Western and Bradbury showed us.
Oh yes, I was going to mention the fabulous page designs and all those wonderfully different panel shapes!
LL: So, after translating Simon’s script into French (thanks Google translate), I reread it several times to make sure I understood the sometimes complex movements for a non-English speaker like me.
In this respect, I must say that it is very appreciable to have someone who writes with such a rich and evocative vocabulary because he immerses me in the right mood, the right tone.
First, I visualise key images that I try to project onto the paper while trying to insert a coherent reading movement so that the reader’s eye moves from one image to another. This is the rough sketch stage. You mustn’t censor yourself, try things out, without detailing, so that you can eventually mourn the loss of a first idea, which is a bit weak, and take it back to satisfaction. You have to be concentrated. This is the stage in absolute silence!
LL: Then I rework my compositions digitally, even adding the first semblance of inking to determine the location of the masses of black, optical greys (the hatch areas, for example), and whites that will blend with the text. I can then listen to the radio, at the other end of the room. And relax a little!
I’m not inventing anything, these are methods that allow a narrative to be developed step by step through drawing, while correcting at each stage the problems of articulation from one panel to another, from one sequence to another.
When everything is settled, I draw the borders of the boxes, and draw the bubbles and define the lettering (the size of the letters, for example, gives the intonation – I then rely on Simon’s script: EVERYTHING is already there!)
Then comes the inking – also done digitally (this is the coolest part!). I can even sing while I work in my studio – that’s saying something!
The colour helps to bring everything to life (movement, atmosphere, clarity…). I think of the colour stage as the music in a film: everything can be nuanced, amplified… or ruined! Far from simple colouring, it is literally the emotional dressing of a sequence.
The new Monster Fun comic, beginning right here in the Halloween Spooktacular and continuing into the new Monster Fun bi-monthly that begins in April, is the first big new children’s comic to come out since The Phoenix – so it really is something of a big deal.
SF: HUGE! On the newsstand again. That’s SO important. Something for a new generation of kids to discover and get their teeth into! I envy them. They’re going to have that moment I had when I walked into a newsagent and saw that first Leopard cover! I think they need more Monster Fun (and Leopard from Lime Street) in their lives.
LL: Well said Simon!
SF: A comic (for kids specifically) that’s about more than a bunch of licensed characters and how many free gifts you can wedge on a cover. More, more, MORE!
SF: I got into comics first by loving comics, the thrill of running to the newsagent or it dropping on my mat. Then, in some strange quirk of fate, I ended up working for IPC and getting to scratch that itch all over again – and get paid for it! Who knew? I started in Scream! and now, nearly 40 years later, I’m in the Halloween Spooktacular. Kinda neat, huh?
LL: There’s also an aspect of it where we’re celebrating something that we should think of as Europeans, our common comics culture. Whilst Marvel succeeded in creating and transmitting its own mythology from generation to generation, and in exporting it all over the world, we should also do the same with our own stories, our own characters, which also say something about our common culture as Europeans? That Euro-Brit comics adventure thing that doesn’t come to us with American superheroes. After all, with comics and popular culture – take Harry Potter for example, we ALL grew a little more English, I can assure you!
And in this case, I think that the working-class origins of the Leopard speaks to everyone, after all, as cool as they are, I never recognized myself in a billionaire in armour or a bat suit! I was far more in tune with young Billy!
Oh yes, absolutely! Here in the UK, we may have a comics culture based in the superheroes in so many ways, but our roots, all that adventuring, all those humour comics, and so many of our comics makes with their roots in Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke and the rest, we have a comics culture that’s a wonderful mix of both that European and US comics culture and our own unique sensibilities.
Now, for both of you – how about influences?
Influences? Who is it that really makes you sit up and go wow?
SF: My main (biggest) influence was Stan Lee (and Marvel as a whole). But Alan Moore, Chris Claremont and others are who fed my professional passion for comics.
LL: Same for me. Claremont, Miller, Eisner, Corben (and I won’t even mention Italians, French or Spanish !). The usual suspects. And just to stay in England, I could mention many English comics that have meant a lot to me when I was a kid : Janus Stark, Kelly’s Eye, Marney the Fox, Adam Eterno, King Cobra, Klip & Klop or Darkie’s Mob (These last two were also drawn by Mike Western – not by chance!).
Alan Davis is also someone I praise since I discovered his work on Excalibur. He embodies the perfect combination of clear storytelling, respecting the characters and the continuity, and yet always exploring angles, movements. I had the chance to meet him and Mark Farmer in Paris a few years ago. Same for Barry Windsor Smith. Frank Quitely is also someone whose work is always inspiring. I could go on for hours!
And finally, what’s next from you both?
SF: More creator-owned projects (including more To The Death in fellow newsstand comic Shift), more Transformers (natch) and a bunch of exciting things I can’t talk about yet. But really, top of my pops right now is the Leopard from Lime Street – loving every page, every panel of it!
LL: I’m doing more of my Fox-Boy series… and drawing Simon’s wonderfully evocative scripts of the Leopard at the same time. Hey, maybe they’ll have a crossover sometime! More seriously, I’m very honoured to be part of the return of this old childhood friend and I really hope that readers won’t be disappointed in me.
Thanks so much to Simon for taking the time – you can catch The Leopard from Lime Street in the brand-new Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular – out from 6 October at all good newsagents and from the 2000 AD web shop and Treasury of British Comics web shop.
Plus, you can subscribe to the all-new bi-monthly Monster Fun comic at their website.
And once you’ve delighted to the all-new adventures of Billy Farmer, remember you can go back and read the classics by Tom Tully, Eric Bradbury, and Mike Western with the Leopard from Lime Street collections!
And as for Laurent’s Fox-Boy – well, here’s a shout out to Europe Comics and Cinebook – let’s see it translated!
And finally – here’s that cover to Buster of 27 March 1976, the one that introduced the Leopard and started the young Simon Furman on the route to right here!